As he entered the Bell’s Powder Company workshop, Town Manager Michael Borg was greeted by words of gratitude and handshakes from immigrants who had just been recently employed by the North Attleborough business.
Borg’s appearance at the company was part of a scheduled tour on Dec. 21. Borg, along with state Rep. Adam Scanlon (D-North Attleborough) and North Attleborough Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Michelle L McKeon, were led by the company’s Vice President Paul Belham Jr. and met workers who recently emigrated to the United States.
“We see diversity and dedication,” Borg said. “This is really the testament of the strength of North Attleborough. This is the backbone of what we do. It provides a way for them to make a contribution.”
One of these workers is Karen Hernandez, who traveled from Venezuela to find work in the United States. Hernandez said she traveled by foot through seven different countries with her sister and their daughters to escape an unstable political climate, and that she is grateful they were able to have their work permits approved.
“We traveled through Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico,” Hernandez said. “I want to thank both the town and Mr. Belham for this opportunity to work and live here.”
Hernandez’s family is one of 67 currently sheltered at the Best Western Hotel on Route 1. Many families came from Haiti, Cape Verde and Venezuela for employment and to build a new life in the United States.
According to Belham, Bell’s Powder Company has hired 12 immigrants, an increase from the four he hired in September. Belham said he would hire three more with their work permits approved and added that other industrial-based businesses are also looking to hire immigrants.
“They are doing so much,” Belham said. “They are superior workers; they will do anything you ask them to, and I am just beside myself.”
Borg said that Bells Powder Company is the only business hiring immigrants from the hotel and no other companies have contacted him to express interest in this. Borg spoke of the slow pace of approving work permits for sheltered immigrants and called on the federal government to pass legislation expediting the process.
“The only people with approved permits are the 12 working here,” Borg said. “We need action. Action speaks louder than words.”
Currently, Senators James Lankford (R-OK), Chris Murphy (D-CT), and Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) have been holding meetings throughout December to draft legislation to tighten asylum rules and bolster border security. Still, there were no reported discussions about speeding up the work permit approval process.
Gov. Maura Healey’s administration has held workshops in towns and cities to help immigrants create resumes and learn how to apply for work permits. Scanlon said that while these workshops have been helpful, direct assistance from the federal government would be more effective in helping immigrants find employment opportunities and begin work to generate income.
“We need the federal government to help out,” Scanlon said. “We will be talking to Congressman Jake Auchincloss (D-MA04) about this.”