AILA New England members joined community and government to help newcomers

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Each inland community, faced with the impact of both regional migration changes and state busing initiatives, has responded differently. In Massachusetts, which has a right-to-shelter law, Gov. Maura Healey declared a state of emergency as the commonwealth’s shelter system approached capacity. However, rather than turning away these people, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has decided to set up work permit clinics to expedite access to work authorization – and thus ensure that these migrants are quickly integrated into our community.

From November 13, 2023 to December 1, 2023, the AILA New England Chapter partnered with the Mabel Center for Immigrant Justice, the Governor’s Office for Refugees and Immigrants, the Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA ), the Boston Bar Association and other government agencies to run a nine-day clinic to help these newly arrived migrants residing in shelters apply for work authorization. With United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on hand to offer biometrics, receipt notices, and a streamlined fee waiver process, immigrants who have passed through this clinic should receive authorization work just weeks after applying, not months.

These clinics recall the welcoming spirit of New England, but also of the United States. During the clinic, approximately 1,200 work permit applications were submitted with biometrics completed onsite, and approximately 800 additional biometrics were completed for those who had previously applied but had not yet completed the biometrics stage. This means that approximately 2,000 immigrants are residing in sheltersrs will soon have a work permit. While recognizing the long and arduous road ahead for these immigrants, the rapid issuance of these work authorizations is a crucial step along the path.

What I took away as an attorney serving the EAD clinic was the realization that these families with young children had gone through perilous conditions with no real knowledge or guarantee of what awaited them in the end. of their journey. I am also encouraged by the equally obvious (but easy to forget) fact that USCIS employees also saw our common humanity in these moments. We all entered these fields because we wanted to help people who weren’t blindly lucky to be born in the United States.

The success of these clinics would not have been possible without the close collaboration between federal and state offices. It’s easy to lament the problems with the current immigration system. However, witnessing this new collaboration shows the potential of our immigration system when federal agencies, state offices, and local partners collaborate and communicate effectively. During my five days at the clinic, I witnessed these USCIS agents work 12-hour shifts alongside the rest of the hundreds of volunteers and go above and beyond to efficiently process these requests, demonstrating their commitment to the the agency’s mission “deliver on America’s promise as a nation of welcome and opportunity with fairness, integrity, and respect for all we serve.”

This clinic embodies Governor Healy’s statement that migrants are “here because Massachusetts has been and always will be a beacon of hope, compassion, humanity and opportunity.” The Massachusetts clinic was only the second such clinic with USCIS on site, and this model continues to spread across the country. AILA New England is grateful to AILA New York Chapter for sharing their operating procedures and lessons learned from their fall clinic. These clinics are an unprecedented effort by USCIS and highlight what can happen when state and federal agencies work together to resolve immigration issues in a cooperative, common-sense, and humane manner. We welcome new collaborations with USCIS to address the challenges of our immigration system.

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