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Mayors Highlight Way Forward for Biden Administration & Congress to Advance Order and Fairness on Asylum

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Vanessa Cárdenas: “Asylum seekers need a hand up, not a handout. These mayors understand this and that is why they are calling for an orderly, efficient and fair process for asylum seekers to arrive and be able to support themselves through work as their cases are heard.”

Washington, DC – A new letter from the mayors of five cities – Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles and New York – makes the case for why and how the Biden Administration and Congress can address the current moment “to create an immigration and asylum system that will treat our newcomers with dignity and be fair and equitable to cities and neighborhoods across the country.” The mayors call for additional federal funding, increased access to work authorization, faster approval of work authorization for eligible applicants, and a renewed and collaborative federal approach where the Biden Administration and Congress help coordinate entry to support states and localities.

As Denver Mayor Mike Johnston told the Associated Press, “nearly every conversation he has had with arriving migrants is the same: Can he help them find a job, they ask. “The crisis is we have folks here who desperately want to work. And we have employers here who desperately want to hire them. And we have a federal government that’s standing in the way of employers who want to hire employees who want to work.”

According to Vanessa Cárdenas, Executive Director of America’s Voice:

“Asylum seekers need a hand up, not a handout. These mayors understand this and that is why they are calling for an orderly, efficient and fair process for asylum seekers to arrive and be able to support themselves through work as their cases are heard. We need to process asylum seekers efficiently, secure our borders intelligently, invest in ports of entry, and provide work permits as fast as possible to those immigrants who qualify. Ultimately, Congress needs to modernize our entire immigration system and, in the interim, work to deliver on the sensible proposals on the table from these mayors while rejecting Republicans’ push to gut asylum wholesale.”

Meanwhile, a new piece in The Nation by Gaby Del Valle, The Number of Migrants Is Not the Problem—Our Asylum System Isputs the mayors’ letter into an important larger context. In a failed effort at deterrence three decades ago, our asylum system was designed to prevent people from working legally, which is precisely the problem the mayors and many Democrats want to solve (excerpts detailed below).

“The problem is not the number of migrants asking for asylum at the border, but rather the underlying system that keeps them in perpetual limbo after they’ve set foot in the United States … 

If not for the bureaucratic obstacles that prevent migrants from working legally, the hundreds of thousands of people who have recently arrived in the United States would be able to take some of those open jobs. Instead, recently arrived asylum seekers are forced to rely on assistance from local governments and nonprofit organizations—fueling the current crisis in New York City. Still, while the overall number of migrants in New York has increased relative to previous years, they are still a negligible fraction of the city’s population. …Even after making it to the United States and filing an asylum application, migrants are unable to fully start new, stable lives in this country.

…The Kafkaesque bureaucracy that keeps asylum seekers impoverished for months or even years on end is a fairly recent development. The mandatory six-month waiting period for employment authorization dates back to the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, a draconian immigration bill that imposed several new restrictions on asylum seekers, made more immigrants eligible for deportation, and expanded the use of immigration detention. …The desire to punish hypothetical people who take advantage of the asylum system has instead hurt hundreds of thousands of real people who, upon arriving in the US, learn they won’t be able to afford a lawyer or even support themselves.

Stopgap measures like TPS and giving cities money to house asylum seekers are undoubtedly better than nothing, but they fall short of real, long-lasting solutions. Pairing them with funding for border enforcement, new DHS facilities and more Border Patrol agents reinforces the restrictionist logic that undergirds the immigration system: Even the smallest forms of relief must be accompanied with more enforcement.

 …The problem is not the number of new arrivals but the bureaucratic hoops they must jump through in order to establish lives in the United States.”