Commentary

Our Newest New Yorkers Want to Work: What They Need from the President and Mayor

Gotham Gazette, Gale Brewer & Murad Awawdeh, April 25, 2023

Imagine if we could fulfill the American Dream for tens of thousands of vulnerable migrants, save vast amounts of money on temporary housing, and add to the city’s tax base – all at no cost and with no downside. It’s possible: President Biden must give all of New York City’s asylum-seekers employment authorization — today — by granting humanitarian parole to our newest New Yorkers.  

New York City is more than $1 billion into a humanitarian disaster not of our making with no end in sight. At least 55,000 migrants from the United States/Mexico border have arrived in the city since April 2023, and more than 34,000 are in the city’s care, according to the administration of Mayor Eric Adams. To meet the need, the City has opened 103 emergency shelters and eight massive humanitarian centers.

Tens of thousands of vulnerable migrants in New York City want and need to work, but very few have been approved to do so. No work means no money. No money means no way to afford an apartment or groceries. No apartment or groceries means full dependence on city social services and non-profit organizations. Full dependence on social services and non-profits means a heavy strain on the city budget and the migrants’ dignity and mobility. 

Asylum-seekers are eligible to apply for employment authorization 180 days after their first check-in with an immigration judge. The backlog in immigration court is so severe (there are already more than 110,000 pending asylum cases in New York State) that new appointments for initial check-ins are booked until at least 2025. Some appointments are being scheduled as far out as 2029.

In other words, for tens of thousands of New York City’s recently-arrived migrants, the 180-day clock won’t even start for two to five years.

New York City’s legal service providers estimate just 5% of the 55,000 migrants have completed their first appearance. Those who have are still subject to United States Citizen and Immigration Services backlogs: it takes another 8 to 18 months for employment authorization applications to be approved.

The question is, how do we fix this? 

First, the federal government should grant humanitarian parole of at least two years to the migrants who are already in the city. Humanitarian parole provides temporary lawful status in the U.S. while cases are adjudicated and allows migrants to secure work authorization within five to ten months. Humanitarian parole does not take away the requirement to apply for asylum or seek another form of permanent status. It is temporary relief, not a path to citizenship, until additional applications for relief are submitted. 

The Biden administration is already using humanitarian parole for 100,000 Ukrainians and 85,000 Afghans. It is a long-established tool to resettle large numbers of people and start their lives while pursuing immigration status in the United States. Temporary Protective Status (TPS) is another route the federal government could take, but the wait time for work authorization is much longer, approximately two years.

Read More: Gotham Gazette