Work Authorization Expansion Is the Problem — Not the Solution to Cities’ Migrant Issues

By Elizabeth Jacobs on September 15, 2023

With cities around the country struggling to provide food, housing, and care for recent migrant arrivals, many migrant advocates, mayors, and Democratic leaders have put pressure on the Biden administration to expand work authorization access to these groups to help alleviate pressure on the public by allowing migrants to “sustain and support themselves”. Adding to the chorus, on Monday, September 11, the entire New York City congressional delegation, led by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Reps. Jerry Nadler and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, sent a letter to demand DHS expand and expedite work authorization processing for migrants, as well as take other actions to benefit other aliens who are in the United States illegally.

The Biden administration’s efforts to expand work authorization eligibility to populations who are not even eligible for visas, however, is partly why we are experiencing a mass illegal immigration crisis of this magnitude in the first place. Make no mistake, it is the near guarantee of release into the interior of the country via parole, coupled with immediate or near immediate eligibility for work authorization that are the strongest pull-factors fueling the crisis on the southern border crisis.

Congress understood this in 1996 when it passed many of today’s pertinent immigration statutes. That is why the Immigration and Nationality Act (at section 235) requires DHS to detain inadmissible aliens “pending a final determination” of their immigration proceedings. That is also why Congress created the “180-day Asylum EAD Clock” for asylum applicants. The statutory waiting period, combined with “last in, first out” processing, is designed to deter aliens from making fraudulent or frivolous asylum claims for the sole purpose of receiving an Employment Authorization Document (EAD, the formal term for a work permit). A grant of humanitarian parole, however, allows these aliens to circumvent the statutory waiting period, as such individuals with parole become eligible for an EAD under a separate mechanism in law.

Civil rights champion and chairwoman of the Clinton administration's Commission on Immigration Reform Barbara Jordan understood this well, too. In 1994, she testified that, “Employment continues to be the principal magnet attracting illegal aliens to this country. As long as U.S. businesses benefit from the hiring of unauthorized workers, control of unlawful immigration will be impossible.” The difference today is that inadmissible aliens now often are authorized to work by DHS despite violating numerous immigration laws. That is attributable solely to the Biden administration’s historic abuse of parole.

What these demands also fail to acknowledge is that USCIS has already been expediting EAD processing for migrants above other immigrants in lawful immigration statuses. In 2022, USCIS announced that certain aliens granted humanitarian parole may now file their employment authorization application (Form I-765) online, rather than using the paper-based application process generally required of most EAD applicants.

The new online-filing platform was originally announced as a measure to expedite EAD processing for Ukrainians and Afghans who were paroled into the United States following the war in Ukraine and the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, respectively. The administration, however, has been quiet in sharing that all migrants who have been granted “public interest” parole as an alternative to mandatory detention pending their removal proceedings are also eligible to use this expedited system to apply for their EADs, allowing their applications to also be prioritized ahead of lawful immigrant categories. Cities’ struggles to house and care for migrants have only grown since these EADs priorities were put in place.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams has been vocal about the strain that the mass illegal immigration crisis has had on New York since President Biden took office. As my colleague Andrew Arthur recently reported, “Adams contends that this migrant crisis will cost [NYC] $12 billion. ... The majority of migrant families — 70 percent — had settled into NYC’s Humanitarian Emergency Referral and Response Centers or shelters, ‘where they join individuals and families in a system where the average length of stay had stretched to 500 days even before the current crisis.’”

Most recently, Mayor Adams has warned city officials that city agencies may face a budget cut of 15 percent across the board if the federal government does not take action to alleviate the burden. Arthur also noted that two weeks ago, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas sent Mayor Adams a letter telling the mayor how New York could better handle the immigrants streaming into his city. Adams responded, “Any plan that states that all migrants must stay in New York City, that's a failed plan. Any plan that does not include stopping the flow at the border is a failed plan.”

Over seven million inadmissible aliens have crossed the Southwest border illegally since President Biden took office in January 2021. Of those, at least 2,289,990 inadmissible aliens encountered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the Southwest border have been released into the United States.