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Immigrants find work opportunities in North Attleborough

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Jarvin Alphonse (right) and Jose Barros are two immigrants who found new opportunity at the Bells Powder Coating. Staff Photo/Adam Bass

abass@northstarreporter.com

When Jose Barros immigrated from Cape Verde to the United States in early 2023, he never expected to find the life he was searching for in North Attleborough.

Barros, 44, is an employee at Bell’s Powder Coating Inc., where he helps his fellow employees handle heavy machinery and assist with various coating projects. A father of three, Barros said he came to the United States to find a job and generate a stable income for his family. He said he wants to make enough money to help his wife emigrate from Cape Verde to North Attleborough and help her find work as well.

“I want to bring her here,” Barros said. “The goal is for me to make enough money so that she can come to the United States and we can make a living for us all.”

Barros was hired to work at Bell’s Powder Coating Inc. after being relocated to North Attleborough in September. Before being hired, Barros said he spent his days at the Best Western Hotel on Route 1, where he and 100 other migrants were sheltered. Barros said that the town provided food and clothing for him and his children and that they were treated humanely, but added that the time it took for his work permit to be approved was tedious. When he learned he would start work in October, Barros was elated and said he could not wait to begin his new job.

“I haven’t had any difficulties now that I have started working,” Barros said. “I am living the life I wanted to live when I got here.”

Barros’s desire to work is shared by many immigrants currently sheltered in North Attleborough. According to the town manager’s office, all immigrants ¬†sheltered in the Best Western came to the country legally and are either seeking opportunities to work or asylum. Many migrants are waiting for their work permits to be approved, as it takes nearly seven months for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to process the forms.

Gov. Maura Healey, along with Massachusetts House and Senate Leadership, have been pressing the Biden administration for three months to expedite the processing of work permits so that migrants can find employment in the Commonwealth. The move comes as the state’s shelter system has become overwhelmed with migrant families, so much so that Healey is proposing an artificial cap to limit the number of families that can be accepted into shelters. The Town Council has also pressed the federal government to move quickly on providing relief in a resolution passed l on Oct. 23.

Jarvin Alphonse, 27, was lucky enough to find a job sooner than most migrants. She immigrated from Haiti in September after fleeing her home to escape dangerous conditions brought on by political instability. Like Barros, Alphonse is also working at Bells Powder Coating She said she was relieved to have her work permit approved despite the long wait period.

“I am very happy now,” Alphonse said. “I feel safe, and I feel as if I can start a new life here with this new job. I may even start a family in the future.”

Paul Belham Jr., vice president of Bell’s Powder Coating, said the hiring of Alphonse and Barros has been a boon for his company. At first, Belham was dismayed by the arrival of migrant families in North Attleborough, thinking that they would be a burden on the town’s resources. After reading comments on social media that mocked and attacked the migrants, Belham decided to take action and see if some would be willing to work for him.

“We went down to the Best Western and we asked if we could hire some of them,” Belham said. “We hired three of them and so far they have been hardworking and great for our business.”

Belham said those who were sheltered at the hotel should be shown compassion, as they came to the country through legal means. Whenever he hears someone call the migrants “illegals,” Belham would regularly show pictures of them with their legal documentation. While he thinks the Healey administration could have had more open dialogue with the town to provide resources, Belham said he hopes more work permits will be expedited and would consider hiring more immigrants to help boost his business.

“I am a Republican and whenever they say they aren’t here illegally, I show them the pictures and ask them to tell me which ones are here illegally,” Belham said. “These people want to work and they are hard workers. If I could, I’d go back there and hire 10!”