Wed | Dec 6, 2023

Biden's Democratic allies intensify pressure for asylum-seekers to get work permits

Published:Wednesday | September 20, 2023 | 9:14 AM
New York Governor Kathy Hochul, left, and New York Mayor Eric Adams attend a news conference about the upcoming "Gun Free Zone" implementation at Times Square, August 31, 2022, in New York. As tens of thousands of international migrants have arrived in New York City over the past year without jobs or a home, Adams and Hochul have begged President Joe Biden for one thing: Make it easier for migrants to get work authorization papers quickly. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, File)

ALBANY, NY (AP) — As more than 100,000 migrants arrived in New York City over the past year after crossing the border from Mexico, Mayor Eric Adams and Governor Kathy Hochul have begged President Joe Biden for one thing, above all others, to ease the crisis.

"Let them work," both Democrats have said repeatedly in speeches and interviews.

Increasingly impatient leaders of Biden's party in other cities and states have hammered the same message over the last month, saying the administration must make it easier for migrants to get work authorisation quickly, which would allow them to pay for food and housing.

But expediting work permits isn't so easy, either legally or bureaucratically, experts in the process say. Politically, it may be impossible.

It would take an act of Congress to shorten a mandatory, six-month waiting period before asylum-seekers can apply for work permits. Some Democratic leaders say the Biden administration could take steps that wouldn't require congressional approval. But neither action seems likely.

Biden already faces attacks from Republicans who say he is too soft on immigration, and his administration has pointed to Congress' inability to reach agreement on comprehensive changes to the US immigration system as justification for other steps it has taken.

The Homeland Security Department has sent more than one million text messages urging those eligible to apply for work permits, but it has shown no inclination to speed the process. A backlog of applications means the wait for a work permit is almost always longer than six months.

As frustrations have mounted, Hochul has said her office is considering whether the state could offer work permits, though such a move would almost certainly draw legal challenges. The White House has dismissed the idea.

Immigrants are frustrated as well. Gilberto Pozo Ortiz, a 45-year-old from Cuba, has been living, at taxpayer expense, in a hotel in upstate New York for the last three months. He says his work authorisation is not yet in sight as social workers navigate him through a complex asylum application system.

"I want to depend on no one," Ortiz said. "I want to work."

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