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Democrats Urge Biden to Strengthen Measures for Immigrant Work Authorization

In an unprecedented show of unity on immigration policy, nearly half of the House Democratic Caucus is urging President Biden to employ executive authority to improve conditions for immigrants and asylum seekers. A total of 103 lawmakers signed a letter that suggests three legal pathways for enabling work authorization for asylum seekers and some undocumented immigrants, while also allowing some undocumented immigrants to apply for permanent residency.





First reported by Politico, the letter has united an array of labor, religious, and civil rights organizations alongside Democratic senators. These entities have long been pushing for the Biden administration to be more aggressive in ensuring work authorization for these groups.


The letter also signaled strong support for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) expansion but concentrated its recommendations on a few, highly targeted regulations.


For President Biden, the stakes are high. The letter not only draws attention to the hurdles faced by asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants but also serves as an internal pressure tactic from his own party. Tensions have already been escalating between the Biden administration and Democratic mayors like New York's Eric Adams, owing to the legal barriers that prevent many asylum seekers from working.


One of the primary focuses of the letter is to address the work permit backlog for asylum seekers. Many asylum seekers find themselves entangled in bureaucratic limbo. Though they are technically eligible for work papers, the law stipulates that they can only receive them after their asylum application has been pending for 180 days. Further complicating the issue is a regulation that doesn't allow them to apply for work permits until 150 days after their asylum application date.


The lawmakers argue that this 150-day regulation should be shortened to expedite the process. The suggested change would mean that as soon as the asylum application hits the 180-day mark, applicants would be able to obtain their work permits without any additional delay.


Another recommendation is to expand the use of immigration parole, a measure that temporarily allows immigrants into the United States for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit. Under this provision, those who receive immigration parole are not subject to the 180-day waiting period to apply for work authorization. The proposal could serve as a powerful tool to alleviate some of the most pressing issues facing newly arrived asylum seekers.


The letter also highlights the increasingly difficult situation surrounding the provisional waiver program. The program targets foreign nationals eligible for a visa or green card who have spent more than 180 days in the U.S. illegally. According to lawmakers, the wait times for obtaining provisional waivers have skyrocketed from 4.5 months in fiscal 2018 to an alarming 43.1 months currently. The lawmakers urge for immediate action to mitigate this backlog, suggesting that parole could serve as a potential solution here as well.


Last but not least, the lawmakers touch upon the cancellation of removal program, available for undocumented immigrants who have been in the U.S. for over a decade and meet other specific criteria. However, the program is only accessible to those who have been placed in removal proceedings, creating a paradox. People most likely to benefit from the program are least likely to access it due to a low priority for removal.


It's unclear how the Biden administration will respond to these requests, but the political and humanitarian stakes are undeniably high. Many of the administration’s top officials have expressed frustrations over the status quo, especially concerning the lack of proper legal guidance available to many asylum seekers.


Conclusion

This collective call to action represents more than just policy proposals; it signifies an urgent humanitarian plea. The Democratic lawmakers, alongside labor, religious, and civil rights organizations, are sounding the alarm that the current system is untenable and in dire need of reform.


Not only does the letter serve as an internal checkpoint for the Biden administration's immigration policy, but it also pushes the narrative that, despite all the political complexities, humane solutions must be sought. Now, the ball is in the administration’s court to either heed these recommendations or navigate the growing discontent among its allies.


If the Biden administration chooses to act, it won't just be altering policy but potentially transforming the lives of millions who seek to contribute to the American tapestry. As the lawmakers aptly summarized in their letter, “Applicants and their families need meaningful immigration relief now.”


For now, all eyes are on the Biden administration, waiting to see if it will wield its executive power to provide not just stability but dignity to undocumented individuals and asylum seekers alike.

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