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Gov. Baker seeking federal guidance on arrivals from Haiti

November 15, 2021 GMT

BOSTON (AP) — Gov. Charlie Baker is seeking guidance from the federal government as Massachusetts tries to offer assistance to new arrivals from Haiti.

In a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, Baker said a significant portion of arrivals to the state from Haiti either lack documentation or have unclear documentation, making them ineligible for federal or state help.

“With nowhere else to go after federal authorities release them from custody at the southern border, these individuals have begun to arrive at the front-door of our shelter system and at the emergency departments of our local hospitals,” the Republican wrote in the letter dated Nov. 8.

The Boston area is home to the third largest community of Haitians in the country, after New York City and Miami.

The state is looking for information on the number of expected arrivals to Massachusetts and the status of those individuals and families — including the permitted length of stay — to get a better understanding of how many are eligible for federal and state assistance, Baker said.

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Community organizations and local resettlement agencies are seeing unfamiliar and inconsistent documentation, and can’t determine benefits eligibility, Baker said. The groups are also reporting that arrivals have had their passports and documentation seized at the border.

Updated federal guidance would help the state and resettlement agencies more quickly determine a family’s or individual’s status and connect them to the appropriate benefits and supports — critical for the often traumatized group, he added.

“Massachusetts is proud to welcome individuals and families seeking asylum and refuge and is dedicated to helping these families live with dignity, but without the federal government’s significantly improving the process outlined above, these families will not be able to access the necessary resources,” Baker wrote.

Baker contrasted the situation for Haitian arrivals with that of Afghan evacuees settling in the U.S.

Baker said the state has received weekly emails from federal agencies alerting the administration to the number of weekly Afghan arrivals. The state expects to welcome about 1,100 Afghans, according to federal officials.

“We are requesting the same level of communication and partnership for the arriving Haitian people,” Baker said.