In an interview with Documented Friday evening, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said that representatives and senators from New York are ramping up pressure on the federal government, requesting that the White House urgently cut down asylum seekers’ wait time for work authorization.
Thirteen Democrats, led by Ocasio-Cortez, are calling on the Biden administration to expedite the work authorization process for asylum seekers, a major hurdle that asylum seekers say prevent them from settling in the United States.
In a letter sent on Friday to President Biden and shared with Documented, the Congresswoman and fellow New York Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, requested that President Biden expand the discretionary measure of parole to include asylum seekers, in order to eliminate the 150-day waiting period for employment authorization after asylum seekers submit their applications. This way, asylum seekers could immediately apply for work authorization from the moment they file their asylum application, the letter says.
Ocasio-Cortez began the push for work authorization first because it was one of the main topics brought up in her team’s conversations with asylum seekers, she said.
“New Yorkers want to welcome, and they are ready to gainfully employ many of the new folks that are arriving here,” Ocasio-Cortez told Documented. “And what we are asking is for the federal government to get out of our way, so that our economy can function and we can integrate new Americans the way New York and New York City always has.”
An average of 500 migrants per day are arriving in the City, Mayor Eric Adams said at a press conference Thursday, with 4,200 arriving last week. Since last spring, more than 65,000 migrants have come to New York City, and almost 40,000 are still in the City’s care, Fabien Levy, the Mayor’s spokesman, confirmed on Friday.
In their letter, the lawmakers say permitting quicker access to work permits would “decrease the pressure” on nonprofits and community groups, give asylum seekers more independence, and allow them the opportunity to find legal assistance. In New York City specifically, the letter notes, nonprofits have been responding to an immense need for job training.
“Many asylum seekers want to work and give back to their new communities. We ask that your administration support the many states, cities, and communities enthusiastically welcoming asylum seekers across this country,” the lawmakers wrote.
Asylum seekers who work without legal authorization are regularly exploited and face wage left as well as labor abuse, according to the lawmakers. Both in the letter and the interview with Documented, Ocasio-Cortez highlighted that there is a need for more workers across U.S. industry sectors.
“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 letter says.
In interviews with Documented, asylum seekers across the City have said they have gone through great lengths to find work while waiting for their work authorization documents. Some had traveled to Florida to help with storm cleanup. Others have worked day jobs at car washes or in kitchens, with no security as to whether or not they would be able to return the following day. Many have walked through boroughs for days, entering in bodegas and restaurants asking if there were any jobs available.
But with New York City pro bono attorneys stretched thin, the 150-day waiting period to apply for work authorization — and an additional 30 days at least to receive the documents — is often extended as asylum seekers spend months simply trying to find legal assistance to help them submit their asylum application. And some asylum seekers are approaching the one-year mark for their asylum filing deadline, without having secured legal help.
As of Friday evening, Ocasio-Cortez said the White House had not yet responded to the letter, however, the entire New York delegation had a call on Friday to discuss the issue of work authorization, with New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, she said.
“I personally believe that the White House has been inconsistent in its stance on work authorization,” Ocasio-Cortez said, adding that the Biden administration has said cutting down the waiting period for work authorization would require an act of Congress.
Biden clamps down on asylum
This week, the Biden administration finalized strict asylum regulations to stem the number of people coming into the U.S. migrants must first seek asylum or other protections in a country they travel through, while making their way to the southern border. If they fail to do so and cross the border without authorization into the U.S., they will likely be presumed ineligible for asylum — with some exceptions — according to the new regulations.
Ocasio-Cortez called these more restrictive regulations an exchange between “basically this reinstatement of Trump-era asylum-policy,” and the parole program, which exists only for certain populations. For parolees, the Congresswoman noted, the regulatory waiting period for employment authorization would be waived.
“For a very long time they were saying it wasn’t possible, then all of a sudden it was,” she said about the Biden administration. “There are still a lot of people in the federal administration that are subscribing to a logic that I personally disagree with — which is, the harder we make things, the less people will want to come.”
New York lobbies for federal dollars
In the past several weeks, Mayor Adams and other city officials have harshly criticized the federal government, saying that the White House is failing to adequately support New York City with sufficient funding to welcome arriving migrants.
Last week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced that it was giving New York City $30.5 million in funding to assist with costs related to migrants. City officials slammed the allocation of funds as inadequate, noting that it was significantly lower than the $350 million the Adams administration applied for.
In the interview with Documented, Ocasio-Cortez called for an overall “tighter coordination” with the Biden administration, and noted that on the issue of work authorization, New York City and the State government were on the same page as the Congressional delegation.
“We need to be making sure that we are coordinated on the state, city and federal level,” she said. “We need to make sure that we’re getting the resources from the federal government for the work and the resources that are necessary.”
Discussions pushing for federal resources to be directed to New York “accelerated” this week, Ocasio-Cortez said, noting that there was additional funding in the pipeline that would be arriving to New York between now and August. Adams has discussed an existing $1 billion outway, Ocasio-Cortez said, and the FEMA funds allocated to New York City will cut into a portion of that.
Though the Representatives and Senators are asking the federal government for financial support, they’re also asking them to “cut the red tape,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “Ultimately, what we are seeking is as many resources as we possibly can.”
New York City looks for solutions
On Wednesday, New York City Mayor Eric Adams signed an emergency executive order which temporarily suspended provisions of the City’s right to shelter law. The executive order included directives to suspend the prohibition of congregate settings for women and children, and to suspend a rule related to the evening deadline to obtain shelter for families with children.
“This was a hard decision, but it’s the right decision,” Adams said at a press conference on Thursday.
Some New York elected officials and advocates condemned the Adams administration for enacting the executive order, and called on Adams to evolve his response from an emergency strategy to a permanent one. They asked for additional coordination with local municipalities and community-based organizations to move people from shelters to permanent housing, and for greater investment in legal services and other assistance to help migrants leave City shelters.
An average of 500 migrants per day are arriving in the City, Adams said, with 4,200 arriving last week. Since last spring, more than 65,000 migrants have arrived in New York City–and almost 40,000 are still in the City’s care, Fabien Levy, the Mayor’s spokesman, confirmed on Friday.
Despite severe pushback from local politicians in Rockland and Orange Counties–who declared states of emergency after Adams announced the City would be housing migrants at hotels in those counties– City officials on Thursday bused dozens of migrants from New York City to a hotel in the town of Newburgh, in Orange County.
Adams told reporters on Thursday that “everything is on the table” in terms of spaces to house migrants, and pointed specifically to Floyd Bennett Field, an airfield in Brooklyn, and Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens as potential options for shelter.