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Dem push to allow asylum seekers to get work permits faster not a fix for border crisis: experts 

Shortening the 180 day waiting period for asylum seekers released into U.S. cities to receive work authorization to just 30 days requires an act of Congress. Immigration experts say that won't solve the border crisis.

Published: September 8, 2023 11:05pm

Democrat mayors trying to cope with an influx of new arrivals from the U.S.-Mexico border have called for the Biden Administration to cut the 180 day waiting time for asylum seekers to receive work authorization. Some experts and at least one GOP congressman have said that won't fix the problems at the border.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams said during a town hall event this week that the same problems various jurisdictions are grappling with could destroy New York City.

“This issue will destroy New York City, destroy New York City. We’re getting 10,000 migrants a month. Now again, people from all over the globe have made their minds up that they’re going to come through the southern part of the border and come into New York City,” Adams said.

His office reportedly estimated that more than 110,000 asylum-seekers have come to New York City since spring of 2022.

Adams has called for the federal government to expedite the waiting period for migrants to receive work permits.

The mayor of Chicago Brandon Johnson has also called for the Biden Administration to reduce the waiting period. 

"Together we call upon the Department of Homeland Security to create a process for streamlined work authorization in which states can sponsor non-citizens to work in industries that are facing labor shortages," Johnson said in August.

Immigration policy experts told Just the News that a shorter waiting period would serve as another incentive for migrants to enter the U.S. illegally, and that a shorter waiting period would likely make the influx of migrants seeking asylum at the border worse.

"The vast majority of asylum-seekers are, in fact, economic migrants. They are not fleeing political persecution, but poverty and corruption in their homelands – neither of which are legitimate grounds for asylum," said Ira Mehlman, spokesperson for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). "Expediting the issuance of work authorization would only add to the already considerable incentives for economic migrants to abuse our asylum process."

Andrew Arthur, a former immigration case judge in York, Pa., told Just the News that DHS has "no authority to grant them work authorization until 180 days after they have applied for asylum." Arthur emphasized that despite some Democratic mayors calling on Biden to make the change to the waiting period, it would require an act of Congress.

"Does that mean the White House won’t try? It would only encourage more people to enter illegally, knowing that they can start working pretty quickly," he said. "I am not sure that any court would hold the administration to that 180-day standard, but SCOTUS might finally be fed up enough to block it."

Kathleen Bush-Joseph, an attorney at the Migration Policy Institute, also said Biden can't unilaterally change the waiting period.

"As many call for Biden admin/@DHSgov to grant recent migrant arrivals work permits right away, need to remember that US law does not allow asylum seekers to receive employment authorization until 180 days after asylum app is filed--would require Congress to pass new law," she wrote on X.

The federal law establishing the 180-day waiting period says that "An applicant for asylum is not entitled to employment authorization, but such authorization may be provided under regulation by the Attorney General. An applicant who is not otherwise eligible for employment authorization shall not be granted such authorization prior to 180 days after the date of filing of the application for asylum."

Arthur noted that immigrants applying for work authorization in other categories must wait for much longer than 180 days due to extensive USCIS backlogs.

For example, the wait time for approval of work authorization is 15.5 months at the Texas Processing Center based on an I-485 (Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status) application.

"They are at the choke point on this," Arthur said.

Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) introduced the Asylum Seeker Work Authorization Act of 2023 in March 2023 that would lower the 180-day waiting period for asylum-based work permits to only 30 days. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), along with co-sponsors Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Arizona) and Angus King (I-Maine), introduced a similar bill in February 2023.

Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.) is one of the co-sponsors of the House version. "Making it easier for asylum seekers to legally work will reduce stress on our immigration system and boost our economy," he wrote on Twitter. 

The office of Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said Issa opposes these bills and prefers the federal government focus on securing the border. "We don’t have a speed of illegal migrants working crisis. We have an open borders and migrants flooding through them crisis," said Jonathan Wilcox, Issa's spokesperson.

Wilcox also said Issa and other Republicans do not expect the bill to lower the waiting period to move forward in the GOP-led House.

Wilcox added that "Biden broke America’s immigration asylum system — we do not expect that this kind of change will gather any momentum in the Congress."

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