Pressure Mounts Among Biden’s Democratic Allies for Streamlining Work Permit Access for Asylum-Seekers

by Andrew Wright
Asylum-Seekers Work Permits

Over the past year, as New York City became home to more than 100,000 migrants who entered from Mexico, both Mayor Eric Adams and Governor Kathy Hochul have consistently urged President Joe Biden to resolve the growing crisis by taking one significant step: “Allow them to work.”

Leaders within the Democratic party from various cities and states have also been amplifying this message in recent weeks. They advocate for simplifying the process through which migrants can secure work permits, arguing that such a measure would enable migrants to independently sustain themselves by covering their housing and food expenses.

However, experts assert that fast-tracking work permits is fraught with legal and bureaucratic complexities. From a political perspective, it may even be unattainable. A congressional act would be required to lessen the obligatory six-month waiting period before asylum-seekers could file for work permits. While some within the Democratic leadership suggest that the Biden administration could enact changes that do not necessitate congressional involvement, both pathways seem improbable. The administration already finds itself under scrutiny from Republicans accusing it of a lenient stance on immigration. Moreover, the Biden administration has cited Congress’ failure to make sweeping reforms in U.S. immigration policy as a rationale for their limited action.

The Department of Homeland Security has taken some measures, such as sending over a million text messages encouraging eligible individuals to apply for work permits, but there has been no indication of an accelerated process. Existing application backlogs mean that the waiting time frequently exceeds the stipulated six months.

In light of mounting frustrations, Governor Hochul has floated the idea that the state could issue work permits, a move that is likely to encounter legal obstacles. The White House has dismissed this proposal.

Asylum-seekers are equally disheartened. Gilberto Pozo Ortiz, a 45-year-old Cuban national, who has been residing in a taxpayer-funded hotel in upstate New York for three months, voices his desperation for work authorization while navigating a convoluted asylum process.

Mayors and governors from other states are also taking action. In Chicago, where 13,000 migrants have recently settled, Mayor Brandon Johnson and Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker have requested that Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas grant parole to asylum-seekers, circumventing the need for work permits.

Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey, 19 Democratic state attorneys general, and other officials have penned letters to Mayorkas, arguing that providing work permits could alleviate the burden on social services and contribute to the economy. Despite these calls for action, the federal government has been criticized for offering minimal assistance to municipalities struggling with this issue.

Migrants who are unable to secure work permits are resorting to staying in homeless shelters. New York City, currently housing over 60,000 migrants, has allocated significant public funds for makeshift accommodations like hotels and tents. Mayor Adams warns that the ongoing crisis could cost the city upwards of $12 billion over a three-year period.

Critics, however, accuse Adams of magnifying the issue, arguing that the impact of the migrants on a city as large as New York City is manageable.

The debate has political ramifications as well, with Republicans leveraging the division among Democrats to their advantage as the presidential elections loom.

Muzaffar Chishti, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, notes that the clamor for expedited work permits serves more as a political talking point than a viable solution.

One consensus is that legal aid could facilitate asylum and work permit applications for migrants, though this approach also faces challenges.

According to the White House, only about 16% of working-age migrants have applied for work permits through the U.S. Custom and Border Protection’s online application, CBP One, since its introduction earlier this year. Additional options could include expanding Temporary Protected Status to citizens of more nations, although the White House may hesitate to take actions that could be perceived as encouraging migration.

The issue remains acute, with illegal border crossings from Mexico surging by nearly 80% since June. Migrants are increasingly entering an underground economy, facing numerous challenges even as they navigate complex bureaucratic processes to integrate into American society.

This report includes contributions from Elliot Spagat, a writer for Big Big News, reporting from Chicago.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Asylum-Seekers Work Permits

What is the main issue that Democratic leaders in New York are urging President Biden to address?

The Democratic leaders in New York, specifically Mayor Eric Adams and Governor Kathy Hochul, are urging President Joe Biden to expedite the process for asylum-seekers to obtain work permits. They argue that this would alleviate the economic burden on local governments and allow migrants to sustain themselves.

Why is the issue of fast-tracking work permits for asylum-seekers complicated?

Fast-tracking work permits for asylum-seekers is complicated both legally and bureaucratically. An act of Congress would be needed to shorten the mandatory six-month waiting period before asylum-seekers could apply for work permits. Even if this hurdle is cleared, there are existing backlogs in the application process that make the wait time longer than six months.

What steps has the Department of Homeland Security taken in this regard?

The Department of Homeland Security has sent out over a million text messages to those eligible for work permits, encouraging them to apply. However, there has been no indication from the department to speed up or streamline the process.

What are other states and cities doing about this issue?

Mayors and governors from other states, such as Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson and Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, have requested parole for asylum-seekers, which would bypass the need for work permits. Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey and 19 Democratic state attorneys general have also written to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, advocating for work permits as a way to support the economy and reduce the strain on social services.

What is the political implication of this issue?

The issue has created division within the Democratic Party and provided an opportunity for Republicans to criticize the Biden administration’s immigration policies. The debate is also adding tension ahead of the upcoming presidential elections.

What options are being considered to solve this issue?

Among the options being considered are the provision of legal aid to help migrants apply for asylum and work permits, and the possible expansion of Temporary Protected Status to citizens of more nations. However, the White House may be hesitant to take actions that could be seen as encouraging more migration.

How does the issue affect migrants directly?

The inability to secure work permits has forced many migrants into homeless shelters or into an underground economy. Without the means to legally work, they are unable to support themselves financially, thereby increasing the strain on local governments to provide social services.

What is the economic impact of the migrant influx on New York City?

According to Mayor Eric Adams, the city could incur costs of up to $12 billion over a three-year period to house and care for the migrants. This includes government expenses for accommodations such as hotels, tents, and recreational centers.

What criticisms have been directed at New York City Mayor Eric Adams?

Critics accuse Mayor Adams of exaggerating the impact of the migrant influx on New York City, arguing that the city’s large population can manage the new arrivals without dire consequences.

What role does public opinion and political optics play in this issue?

Public opinion is a significant factor, with politicians wary of appearing ineffectual on immigration matters. According to Muzaffar Chishti, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, the calls for expedited work permits are more about political optics than about offering practical solutions.

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George_Lawyer September 20, 2023 - 11:57 am

Legally speaking, it’s a complex issue. Not just an act of Congress, but several layers of bureaucracy involved. No easy solutions here.

Alan_Finance September 20, 2023 - 5:37 pm

$12 billion over 3 years for NYC alone? That’s a significant number. Wondering how that will impact city budgeting and if federal aid will be considered.

MikeInChicago September 20, 2023 - 7:01 pm

i’m in chicago and let me tell you, we’ve got our own problems with this. but hey, politicians always say one thing and do another.

TinaQ September 20, 2023 - 9:06 pm

Political optics, always! No one wants to make the tough calls. Easier to just talk about it and look good.

SarahJ September 20, 2023 - 11:02 pm

Why is the gov sending a million text messages but not speeding up the process? Like, what’s the point?

DeborahK September 21, 2023 - 1:16 am

Honestly, I think it’s about time we fixed the immigration system. its a mess and everybody knows it.

JamesThompson September 21, 2023 - 4:37 am

Wow, this is a hot topic for sure. Cant believe how much division it’s causing within the party. Something’s gotta give, right?

KarenWilliams September 21, 2023 - 7:21 am

Adams says it’ll “destroy NYC?” Really? With a population that huge, I’m not buying it. Feels like a scare tactic to me.

EllaM September 21, 2023 - 7:27 am

They’re human beings, not just political pawns. Let’s find a humane solution and stop the bickering already.


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