Taunton, Massachusetts, Mayor Shaunna O’Connell is among the many elected officials and municipal administrators across the United States who have seen the immigration crisis thrust upon them.
Many mayors have been left without support beyond their community’s own resources, frustrated with an immigration system—managed by decision-makers in the White House and state capitals—they say is broken and in need of major repair.
Taunton is located in the southeast corner of the Bay State, at the northern tip of an area called the South Coast, which extends southward to the Atlantic Ocean—taking in the coastal cities of Fall River, once a national leader in textile manufacturing; and New Bedford, a major whaling port in the 1800s and, today, still hosts a thriving fishing industry.
The city and the South Coast region generally have a large percentage of residents with Portuguese lineage; indeed, 18 percent of those living in Taunton who are 5 years or older primarily speak Portuguese in the home.
Not a Sanctuary City; Deep in Immigrant Crisis
While several cities and towns in Massachusetts have designated themselves as sanctuary municipalities from immigration law for immigrants, the city of Taunton isn’t one of them. Even so, the city is experiencing a major and daunting immigrant problem that includes both legal and illegal immigrants.
Since last spring, the administration of Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey has been housing immigrants at a hotel in the city as part of a contract that it holds with the hotel to provide what it says is temporary shelter for up to 120 immigrant and homeless families.
The housing is provided under the state’s Emergency Assistance (EA) shelter for families and pregnant women program.
At the end of March, Ms. Healey, a Democrat, signed a $389 million supplemental budget for fiscal year 2023 that included $85 million she had proposed for the state’s EA program.
Taunton is one of the 28 municipalities in the state in which the Healey administration is spending millions to house, feed, and provide other services to immigrants.
Caught ‘Totally’ by Surprise
Mayor O’Connell’s office first learned about the arrangement when families started showing up in early May at the 155-room Clarion Hotel located in a busy industrial park in Taunton. The hotel is now closed to the public, although a conference center attached to the property is still open for meetings and business.
“We were caught by surprise, totally,” Ms. O’Connell said in an interview with The Epoch Times. “And we had earlier, before the decision was made to house the families at the hotel, expressed to the state that we did not want the hotel shut down and turned into a shelter.
“We currently have a housing crisis in this state and across this country. And thousands and thousands of people are pouring into our state and exacerbating the problem.”
The mayor added, “We have senior citizens, families, and veterans that are in desperate need of housing, and we have thousands and thousands of people coming into the state and there’s nowhere for them to go.”
Ms. O’Connell, 51, estimates that a third of those sheltered at the Clarion Hotel are foreign immigrants, mostly from Haiti. The mayor has taken action against the Clarion Hotel, issuing the hotel, beginning May 26, a daily fine of $1,000 for overcrowding and creating a safety hazard.
“We need to ensure that we’re following and are able to uphold all our safety protocols,” Ms. O’Connell said. “And the occupancy limit for the hotel is about 360, and in the neighborhood of 450, people are living there, we discovered.”
“So, we requested that the hotel fill out the appropriate paperwork, and to submit engineering and architectural studies that will certify that the building can safely house more than 360. But the hotel has neglected to provide us with that information, and that is why it is being fined.”
Ms. O’Connell said that the Taunton building commissioner has been trying to receive information from and have questions answered by Jamsan Hotel Management.
The Epoch Times reached out to Ms. Healey’s office and the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities (EOHLC), the department that manages the EA program, to ask how many of those living at the Clarion Hotel are illegal immigrants, and also requested comment on the fines that Ms. O’Connell has placed on the hotel.
The EA program “serves both long-term Massachusetts residents and new arrivals to the state,” and “[f]amilies who are wholly undocumented, and whose presence is not acknowledged by federal immigration authorities, are not eligible for Emergency Assistance shelter,” Kevin Connor, EOHLC press secretary, said an email to The Epoch Times.
Governor Backs Programs, Resources for Illegal Immigrants
While the office of Ms. Healey asserts that the “wholly undocumented” and those whose presence in the United States aren’t known to the federal government don’t qualify for EA shelter, the governor has a track record of supporting accommodations for illegal immigrants, and for sanctuary cities.
In 2017, then-Attorney General Healey responded to a Boston Globe reporter’s question on whether she opposed Massachusetts becoming a sanctuary state.
“I’m not saying that I’m opposed to it. I’m just saying that as a practical—and I think that the Legislature is absolutely entitled to discuss and debate it. I also think just the fact that we’re having a conversation about immigration is good.”
Ms. Healey had opposed the Trump administration’s ban on federal grants to sanctuary cities. The ban was reversed by the Biden administration and its Department of Justice.
During her run for governor, Ms. Healey didn’t comment on what Massachusetts should do with illegal immigrants shipped to the state but supported a question on the November 2022 election ballot approved by a majority of voters, which upheld the state law that allowed illegal immigrants to receive driver’s licenses.
The governor, though, like other politicians in the United States who push leniency and a welcoming approach to illegal immigrants, has found herself beset with problems that her critics say her policies helped bring about.
In August, Ms. Healey declared a state of emergency in Massachusetts because of the influx of illegal immigrants. She also activated the Massachusetts National Guard to help bring the illegal immigration crisis under control.
State Contract With Hotel
The Epoch Times obtained a copy of the state’s EA family shelter contract between the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and Clarion Hotel, which is owned by Jamsan Hotel Management, a company based in Lexington, Massachusetts.
The contract between DHCD and the hotel officially commenced on April 7 but wasn’t fully executed until May 5. The initial phase of the contract is for 15 months, but it can be renewed in 12-month increments until June 30, 2032.
DHCD estimates that under the contract, it will pay the hotel $2.6 million for fiscal year 2023, and $10.7 million for fiscal year 2024.
Among specifics of the contract are that from May 1, 2023, through June 30, 2024, the state will be charged a per-day room rate of $123, and the hotel will provide each person being sheltered three meals per day at a daily feeding rate of $37, with that cost broken down to $5 for breakfast, $14 for lunch, and $18 for dinner.
The contract stipulates that the hotel must have the front desk staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and that it is “required” to “inquire of a family’s preferred language at placement” and to provide, if needed, access to bilingual staff and translation services.
On Sept. 27, The Epoch Times sent an email to Ashok Patel, the owner of Jamsan Hotel Management. Later in the day, The Epoch Times visited the Clarion Hotel, and a man at the front desk said that he had no information concerning the future of the hotel and recommended sending an email to Mr. Patel.
Jamsan Hotel Management didn’t respond by press time to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.
While on the hotel grounds on Sept. 27, The Epoch Times talked with two men. One said he was Haitian and had arrived from Florida two days earlier. The other man, when asked how he liked the accommodations, said with a smile, “Chilling.”
Past Violations for State Vendor
Jamsan Hotel Management previously has run afoul of the state government. In 2020, the office of Attorney General Healey slapped the company with fines and citations for its role in committing theft of wages of employees who worked for a restaurant chain, and for retaliating against employees who alerted the AG’s office about its wage and payment practices.
Employee complaints against Waxy’s Modern Irish Pub, which had five locations in the state (all now out of business), included that it bounced employee paychecks, denied earned sick time for workers, and committed other violations.
The complaints resulted in the AG’s office ordering Waxy’s owners, Mr. Patel and Paul McKenna, and Jamsan Hotel Management, which managed the chain, to pay $125,000 in penalties and restitution to employees.
A Continuing Challenge
Even as, at the state level, money is committed to help housing and care for families sheltered at the Clarion Hotel, Taunton’s municipal budget and resources are being stretched and stressed in response to the EA sheltering at the property.
Sixty of the children of the immigrant families are now enrolled in the Taunton public school system, and calls for police and fire support at the hotel have risen since the arrival of the immigrants.
Taunton has assigned a one-officer police detail to the hotel.
“When we were blindsided by the arrival of the immigrants, and the hotel being turned into a shelter, we of course contacted the state, and the state did arrange a meeting with the city to help bring everyone up to speed and to get everyone on the same page, but much more needs to be done,” Ms. O’Connell said.
“And other mayors and town managers and administrators have begun to express their frustration over the situation; it is unsustainable.
“There are not enough services; there is nowhere to put people and we cannot continue on this path. I mean, the state had to use the National Guard to deal with the crisis; that, in itself, is evidence of the extraordinary problem the country faces.”