A cadre of over 70 pols led by City Council Member Gale Brewer (D-Manhattan) joined Mayor Eric Adams and Governor Kathy Hochul in demanding the White House expedite work authorizations for the tens of thousands of migrants in New York City through a letter to President Biden on Tuesday.
The mayor has spent the last couple of months pleading with the White House to take steps he says would immediately allow more migrants in the city to legally work, with the governor joining in with his call at an event late last month.
Accompanying Brewer as signatories on the missive are 42 council Democrats, including Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, accounting for most of the 51-member body. Additionally, city Comptroller Brad Lander, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and several state senators also jumped on board.
Many of the individuals arriving in the city were professionals in their home countries who want to work here, they wrote in the letter. Not allowing them to do so legally pushes them into the underground economy, where they could be subject to exploitation.
“The individuals and families coming to New York are professionals, including, business owners, welders, teachers, reporters, and more,” the letter reads. “Tens of thousands of asylum seekers in New York City want and need to work, but very few have been approved to do so and they face years-long processing times for their applications. Many are working without authorization, which puts them at risk of exploitation and injury.”
Brewer and the letter’s signatories requested that Biden immediately fast track work permits by redesignating Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for countries not currently covered by it; extending and expanding Humanitarian Parole for migrants who are already here; and hiring more U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) staff to process asylum claims more quickly.
They said the executive branch can take these actions without having to go through Congress, where the Republican House majority is likely to block any effort to more expeditiously grant work permits to asylum seekers.
“The president could literally sign the Temporary Protected Status right now,” Brewer told amNewYork Metro. “It’s not something that you have to go through Congress for. Congress would be a longer process, you can get your working papers after you’ve gotten your asylum hearing … But while you’re working for your official working papers, you can get this TPS.”
Approving work permits faster means more asylum seekers would be able to afford rent and groceries, the pols wrote, so less of them would be dependent on city-funded shelter stays and services. City Hall estimates the cost of continuing to provide shelter, food and other resources to an ever-increasing number of new arrivals will be at least $4.3 billion by next July.
But so far the city’s request for more speedily rubber-stamping work authorizations has fallen on deaf ears, as well as its demands for the feds to provide increased financial support for the crisis. Washington has only given the city $38.5 million so far, through a pot of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reimbursement funds, and Adams’ office says it’s not likely to get much more.
The letter was released as Speaker Adams, Deputy Council Speaker Diana Ayala (D-Manhattan/Bronx) and much of the council’s leadership are in Washington D.C. lobbying the federal government for the work permits and more financial assistance with the migrant crisis. They’ll also be discussing issues like homelessness and education with White House officials, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn) and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Both moves come as the mayor has spent months blasting council members and the comptroller for criticizing his administration’s approach to the crisis, while, he says, not making more of an effort themselves to get action from the feds.
A City Hall spokesperson, in a statement, applauded the council members’ letter and trip to Washington.
“We’re grateful to our colleagues in the City Council for joining our calls for the federal government to provide financial support for New York City and expedite work authorization for asylum seekers,” the spokesperson said. “We’ve already spent over $1.2 billion on this national crisis and are in need of much more support from the federal government to tackle this challenge.”
Brewer pushed back on the mayor’s characterization that council members haven’t pushed enough for help from the feds, noting she personally has been urging the White House to expedite work authorization since last fall, writing letters and penning op-eds and even introducing a council resolution demanding action from D.C.
“I’ve written a lot of letters, personally, on this issue of workforce,” Brewer said. “From Day 1, I’ve felt strongly that this was the best way to support the migrants and us, because if they’re working, they’re gonna be on their own. So, I could send a whole pile of letters I’ve written, not to say they’ve made any difference.”