In this photo, migrants from Venezuela are reflected in the marble wall of their makeshift shelter at the 16th Precinct police station in Chicago.
After the arrival of more than 100,000 migrants in the city new York Last year, after crossing the border from Mexico, Mayor Eric Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul asked President Joe Biden for one thing in particular to ease the crisis:
“Let them work,” the two Democrats repeated in speeches and interviews.
Increasingly impatient Biden party leaders in other cities and states have been hammering home the same message over the past month, saying the government must make it easier for migrants to quickly get work permits that can pay for food and money. Accommodation.
But it is not that easy to speed up the work permit, neither legally nor bureaucratically, process experts pointed out. Politically it might be impossible.
In order to shorten the mandatory waiting period of six months, a resolution from Congress would be needed Asylum seekers can apply for a work permit. Some Democratic leaders argue that the Biden administration should take steps that do not require House approval. But neither option seems likely. Biden is already facing attacks from Republicans who say he is too soft on immigration issues, and his executive branch has highlighted Congress’ inability to reach agreement on comprehensive change to the immigration system as justification for other steps taken.
The Department of Homeland Security has sent more than a million text messages encouraging those eligible to apply for work permits to do so, but has shown no intention of speeding up the process. Due to the delay in applications, the waiting time is almost always more than six months.
Amid growing frustration, Hochul said his office is considering the possibility of having the state offer such permits, although such an initiative would almost certainly lead to legal challenges. The White House has rejected the idea.
Migrants are also frustrated. Gilberto Pozo Ortiz, a 45-year-old Cuban, has been living in a hotel in New York state for three months on public funds. He says he can’t seem to get his work permit as caseworkers guide him through a complex asylum application system.
“I don’t want to depend on anyone,” Ortiz said. “I want to work”.
In Chicago, where 13,000 migrants settled last year, Mayor Brandon Johnson and Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker wrote to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas requesting an exemption Asylum seekers This, in their opinion, would allow them to avoid waiting for approval.
Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey, who declared a state of emergency in the region due to migrant arrivals, wrote to Mayorkas, noting that work permits “represent an opportunity to meet labor needs, support our economy and reduce dependency of new arrivals”. And 19 Democratic attorneys general also contacted the official and told him that these approvals would ease pressure on governments to provide social services.
The federal government has done “virtually nothing” to help cities, said Alderman Andre Vasquez, president of the Chicago City Council’s Migrant and Refugee Rights Commission.
Homeless shelters in several cities are now overcrowded with migrants who cannot get work permits.
Currently, more than 60,000 migrants rely on the city of New York for shelter, forcing them to rent hotel rooms, set up cots in recreation centers and set up tent camps at government expense. The city executive estimates that housing and caring for migrants could cost the city $12 billion over three years.
“This problem will destroy New York City,” Adams said at a community event this month. “We are not getting any support during this national crisis.”
Immigrant advocates have objected to the apocalyptic terms used by Adams, saying he exaggerates the potential impact of the new arrivals in a city of nearly 8.8 million people.
Republicans have exploited the discord to put Democrats on the defensive ahead of next year’s presidential election.
Muzaffar Chishti, a lawyer and fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, said calls to speed up work permits have more to do with political optics than practical solutions.
“You don’t want to tell voters there’s nothing they can do. No politician wants to say that. So they’ve become a kind of repetitive wheel that says, ‘Give us work permits,'” he said. “Saying it is much easier than receiving it. But it’s a good sentence.”
One measure that most believe would be helpful is providing legal assistance to migrants applying for asylum and work permits, although this has already proven challenging.
Nationwide, only about 16% of working-age migrants registered with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have applied for work authorization, according to the White House. Since the CBP One app launched in January through the end of July, nearly 200,000 asylum-seeking migrants have used it to make appointments to enter the land border crossings with Mexico.
Federal authorities recently sent email and text message alerts reminding people without citizenship that they can apply. New York City officials have also begun interviewing residents. Asylum seekers to determine whether they meet the requirements.
Another option would be to increase the number of countries whose citizens can qualify for temporary protected status in the United States. This award is given to locations affected by armed conflict or natural disasters.
But the White House may be wary of taking actions that could be construed as encouraging migrant arrivals.
Elden Roja, who has held odd jobs in landscaping for about $15 an hour, among other jobs, lives in the lobby of a Chicago police station with his wife, children ages 15 and 6, and about 50 other people. When a Venezuelan colleague honked the horn of the car he had bought, Roja laughed and said he would have one soon.
Although the bureaucratic hurdles can be significant, many migrants manage to navigate the process.
José Vacca, also Venezuelan, traveled from Colombia with two cousins, leaving their families behind to make the journey mostly on foot. When he arrived in Texas, he received free bus tickets to New York.
There, the 22-year-old found a job for which he was paid an undeclared $15 an hour. When he received the temporary work permit, his boss paid him a dollar more per hour.