A group of 13 Democrats who represent New York City — including Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries — are urging President Biden to use his executive power to allow asylum seekers to receive work permits more quickly.
In the letter, spearheaded by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the lawmakers note that existing laws and regulations require people to wait 180 days after submitting an asylum application to receive employment authorization documents.
“That means that, for roughly six months after submitting the application, asylum seekers cannot provide for themselves or their families,” the letter says. “As a result, asylum seekers are forced to rely on underfunded community groups to provide them with everything from housing to food to health services. This is particularly troubling given the labor shortages we are experiencing across the country.”
Biden has limited authority to alter the timeline, but the lawmakers argue he can use a discretionary tool known as “parole” to allow asylum seekers to enter the country and begin working sooner.
The request comes as New York and other communities are struggling with an influx of migrants that is expected to accelerate further following the expiration Thursday night of Title 42, the pandemic-era border policy that swiftly expelled migrants who entered the United States illegally.
More than 60,000 migrants have arrived in New York City in the past year, according to City Hall officials, who are expecting thousands more in coming weeks, including from border states such as Texas, which has a program of busing them to jurisdictions run by Democrats.
The Biden administration has said a new system will make it easier for authorities to deport asylum seekers who cross illegally while expanding opportunities for migrants to reach the United States legally.
Democrats and Republicans in Congress are also offering dueling legislation to address the issue of immigration more broadly.
On Thursday, the Republican-led House narrowly passed the Secure the Border Act. Among other provisions, it would provide funding to restart the building of a border wall and enhance monitoring technology along the United States’ southern and northern borders and allot millions of dollars to increase the number of Border Patrol agents. The bill is considered dead on arrival in the Democratic-led Senate.
House Democrats, meanwhile, this week reintroduced the U.S. Citizenship Act, a bill backed by Biden that would, among other things, provide millions of undocumented immigrants with a pathway to earned citizenship.
The Democrats signing the letter to Biden, which addresses the narrower issue of work permits, include Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), as well as all 11 House members who represent parts of New York City, including Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.
The Democrats write that “many asylum seekers want to work” and argue that Biden is in a position to help not only New York but “the many states, cities and communities enthusiastically welcoming asylum seekers across this country.”
“Asylum seekers who work without authorization are often exploited, receiving pay far below the minimum wage and facing repeated incidents of wage theft and labor abuse,” the letter says. “Instead of providing a safe haven for people fleeing persecution, we keep them in a limbo state where they want and need to provide for themselves but are legally barred from doing so.”
The lawmakers also argue that action by Biden could help address labor shortages.
“A shortfall of immigrants due to our restrictive immigration policies worsens widespread labor shortages and hobbles the U.S. economy at a time when more than 10 million jobs remain unfilled,” the letter says.