Responding to the Increase of Asylum Seekers and Vulnerable Migrants in New York City & U.S. Cities

The political finger-pointing and harmful rhetoric needs to stop. We need a clear focus on actual policy solutions that allow immigrants to be welcomed, thrive and fully contribute.

How We Got Here

For too long, there have been no working legal immigration pathways for people in the Western Hemisphere to find seasonal or permanent work, apply for refugee status, or reunite with family in the United States. The majority of migrants forced to leave their homes coming to the United States have had to navigate the asylum system and enter the country by making a dangerous trek to the border. As forced global migration has increased over the past decade, Congress has failed to create new safe, and legal pathways. These pathways would not only allow people seeking asylum to obtain work authorization soon after they arrive in the United States as their case progresses, but also provide safer alternatives for people who do not meet the strict legal requirements of our asylum law. These are individuals who still have urgent and compelling reasons to flee their homes, and whose contributions would greatly benefit our country. 

Current law prevents asylum seekers from applying for work authorization for at least 5 months (150 days) after they file an initial asylum application. They must then wait an additional 30 days before a work permit may be issued (for a total of 180 days), but current backlogs regularly extend the wait time to 90 days. The current system forces some people applying for asylum to have to wait upwards of a year from the time they enter the U.S. to receive work authorization. An increasing number of new asylum seekers, often without existing family ties in the U.S., are currently migrating to cities like New York. However, due to their inability to work legally and their ineligibility for federal benefits until asylum is granted (which currently takes an average of four years), they are unable to access essential services such as housing, legal services, transportation, and more. Consequently, they are being forced to rely heavily on state and local resources, as well as emergency support from receiving communities.

Major cities are now facing an operational challenge of welcoming asylum seekers who do not have financial sponsors or family in the United States. These people are fleeing acute crises, and cities like New York have an opportunity to welcome them and support their transition–but this can’t happen without smart policy and support. They can also join a long-term effort to build an immigration system that provides safe pathways for people to enter the United States and be able to successfully integrate into their new communities, ensuring they have the supports to integrate and ultimately eliminating barriers designed to prevent them from working and contributing to their new communities. Smarter policy and allowing people to thrive and contribute is key to a sustainable immigration system..

The federal government’s failure to develop an integration plan to coordinate with state and local governments only compounds this challenge, leaving receiving communities to devise orderly integration plans for new arrivals on their own. New York’s current situation is a direct consequence of Congress’ failure to modernize our immigration laws. The Biden administration, however, has tools to provide immediate relief to receiving communities, who should not have to bear this challenge without support from the federal government. 

The most important of these tools is Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designations, an incredibly effective legal pathway used by both Democratic and Republican administrations that provides currently undocumented immigrants in the U.S. immediate access to work authorization and deportation protections for 18 months. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has the statutory authority to designate a country for TPS where the country is facing an ongoing armed conflict, an environmental disaster, or an extraordinary and temporary condition. 

It is also important to note that there is no place or need for inflammatory, harmful rhetoric. New York City and our country absolutely can rise to this occasion–what we need is clear leadership.

Recommended Steps for the Biden Administration as well as State and Local Officials

  • Redesignate Venezuela for TPS: The majority of new arrivals in the U.S. are from Venezuela. Recent reports from New York City reflect similar demographics, with ~65% of new arrivals coming from Venezuela. With the Biden administration having already extended its original TPS designation for Venezuela in an acknowledgment of the worsening humanitarian crisis, a TPS redesignation would simply update the cutoff date for the program and give hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans the ability to work as they move through the asylum process, bringing immediate relief for people seeking economic stability and the communities in which they live.
  • Redesignate and Designate Additional Countries for TPS that Meet the Requirements of the Statute: The Biden administration should redesignate and extend TPS for Cameroon, Sudan, South Sudan, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Nepal. Additionally, they should provide new designations for countries which meet the statutory requirements for the program including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guatemala, Mali, Mauritania and Nigeria. Expanding the benefits of TPS to more eligible populations would be a major economic benefit to receiving communities.
  • Grant Work Authorization to Parole Recipients at the Time Their Parole Status Is Approved: The Biden administration has the authority to significantly reduce the amount of time a parole recipient is forced to wait to receive work authorization by allowing people from Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Haiti to receive work permits at the time of their parole, in the same manner as they did with the Ukraine parole program. Going forward, all new parolees should be work authorized to avoid delay; for those already here, the administration should continue efforts to encourage work permit sign-ups and expand fee waiver eligibility.
  • Coordinate the Transportation of New Arrivals to the United States: For too long, the Administration has allowed states to transport large numbers of new arrivals to cities where they have no family support system. DHS, through the Southwest Border Coordination Center (SBCC) and Migrant Information Center, should facilitate intergovernmental coordination with state, county, and local border and interior communities, and the transportation of migrants with existing family ties to destinations where they already have housing support.
  • Prioritize USCIS Asylum Processing to High-Need Areas and Identify Additional Resources from the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to Support Asylum Seekers: ORR already manages the integration of refugees and is best equipped to partner with cities to assist with the integration of new asylum seekers. The administration should seek to utilize best practices from the refugee program to enhance services for asylum seekers.
  • Work with Congress to Increase Funding to Cities through the Shelter and Services Program: Congress has funded frontline service providers in border cities for years and should do the same to support local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that provide critical services to new arrivals. Senators Gillibrand and Merkley recently sponsored the ASPIRE Act, a bill that would allocate an additional $10 billion for EFSP and SSP funding, which would lay the foundation for the kinds of meaningful and robust coordination that border and interior communities desperately need to equitably serve people seeking safety in the US.
  • Create New Legal Pathways: The Biden administration should continue to make robust efforts to defend, improve and expand legal migration pathways, such as the CHNV parole pathways, family reunification pathways, labor pathways, and by building a Western Hemisphere refugee program. The administration should expand CBP One appointments for families, incentivizing them to present at ports of entry and access work authorization through a grant of parole.
  • Allocate Additional Funding for Housing, Transportation, and Legal Services: Receiving communities require additional financial support to safely accommodate new arrivals while continuing to serve the needs of their existing residents. City and state officials should make efforts to fund case management to complement and enhance federal funding allocations to government services and NGO service providers, for programs like the Alternatives to Detention Case Management Pilot Program.

The United States has served as a beacon of hope for the world. Not too long ago, New York, through Ellis Island, was the entry point of security, opportunities, and prosperity for immigrants from the Western part of the world. The state benefited from the skills and wishes of individuals who came through that island as they passed the Statue of Liberty to build a better life for themselves and their families. We need to ensure that once again, when people are forced to migrate, their claims are handled in a fair and timely manner, they receive assistance in locating housing, and have the ability to work. We urge all parties to work together to focus on concrete short, medium, and long-term solutions to these challenges and avoid false promises that mischaracterize current law. There are clear legal steps that can be taken–and New Yorkers born here and those who have just arrived will all be better when that happens. 

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