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.