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Sen. John C. Velis part of National Guard mission to help with migrants

State Sen. John C. Velis, D-Westfield, at the Soldiers' Home in Holyoke. (Hoang 'Leon' Nguyen / The Republican/TNS)

National Guard officer and state Sen. John C. Velis has been deployed to assist with the high numbers of incoming migrants in the Bay State.

Velis was among about 250 Massachusetts National Guard members activated Oct. 3 by Gov. Maura T. Healey to provide basic services for the migrant families arriving here. They are placed at hotels as emergency shelter.

Velis’ office said that he could not answer any questions from The Republican while deployed, but his office said it is operating normally through his activation.

Don Veitch, state public affairs officer at the Massachusetts National Guard, said Velis will serve as the general legal advisor for the mission.

In 2010, Velis joined the U.S. Army and deployed to Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, according to his campaign website. Since his return, he has served with the Army Reserve.

In August 2017, he spent a month near the North Korean border, where he participated in joint military exercises with the South Korean forces. On Velis’ second deployment to Afghanistan in 2018, he was promoted to major, his campaign states.

In his latest deployment, Velis is assisting the Guard with coordination of food, transportation, medical care and other basic needs for the rapidly rising numbers of migrant families.

In a statement issued on Aug. 8, Healey said the arriving families caused the state’s emergency shelter system to expand to an unsustainable level. While the administration continues to add new shelter sites to meet demand, service providers have been stretched thin.

According to the statement, more than 6,000 families are in emergency shelters across the state as of this week. Guard members were assigned to specific hotel shelter sites to make sure families placed there have access to basic services.

In addition, the Guard’s response teams will prep sites to open, inform migrants about placements, arrange public benefits and support partner agencies.

The Healey administration recently met with the Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to discuss federal support, after appealing to him in an Aug. 8 letter. Healey wrote about the number of families coming to the state with no way to find or pay for shelter.

Additionally, Healey further appealed to the federal government for assistance with streamlining work authorizations and funding.

“These new arrivals desperately want to work, and we have historic demand for workers across all industries,” Healey wrote.

The state of emergency stemmed, Healey wrote, from federal policies on immigration and work authorization, scarce production of affordable housing and the end of pandemic related relief programs.

According to Healey, some families drawn to the state are fleeing imminent threats, and the commonwealth has been a beacon of hope to those in need.

With more than 1,800 families already living in hotels and motels across 80 cities and towns across the state, with the new influx, Massachusetts does not have the tools needed to meet the demand for shelter.

According to Healey’s letter to Mayorkas, in the last six months, the need for shelter has skyrocketed.

In March, about 68 families came to Healey’s office for assistance. By July, the number jumped to 100 each day, compared to last March, when only 25 families a day who sought assistance.

Shelter entries per month are more than double the number of entries per month during the pandemic, and about one third higher than pre-pandemic levels. At the same time, the number of families leaving the shelter for permanent housing has declined by two-thirds since 2019, Healey wrote.

The state is spending $45 million a month for programs to help families, but the fear is that soon the state will not be able to keep up.

Healy said a federal crisis of inaction has been in the making for many years.


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