The holidays are here, and while the decorations on Capitol Hill symbolize a season of giving, lawmakers seem more focused on getting what they want on immigration.
Every member on Capitol Hill agrees the public health crisis at the southern border is untenable. Those truly committed to addressing the emergency know that it can’t be fixed overnight.
They have the hard task of enacting laws to prevent migrants fleeing abhorrent conditions from entering America illegally, providing border support for their humane treatment while being processed and managing the needs of those granted temporary protected status now living in the U.S. in the best way possible.
President Biden has signaled that he would consider a plan to put greater limitations on the humanitarian parole and asylum process for migrants in exchange for support of his proposed $100 billion aid package for Ukraine and Israel. Dealmakers on both sides are working feverishly to get an agreement done.
“It’s time to cut a deal that both sides can agree to,” Shalanda Young, Biden’s budget director, recently said on “Face the Nation.”
This won’t help or solve the immigration crisis. As illustrated by President Trump’s failed plan to “build a wall,” policies that focus only on keeping migrants out address only a small part of the problem.
Strengthening security at the border is important, but it must be part of a holistic approach. This must include measures that advance public health, such as creating a more efficient path to U.S. citizenship, building better living conditions for those stuck at the border, developing more humane ways to keep migrant families together, and establishing ways to connect migrants with host families in the U.S., to name a few.
Beyond these proposals, a step we can take right now, one that has proven to work, is to expedite the ability for migrants living inside the U.S. to earn a living. Today migrants must wait six months after filing their applications for asylum to apply for a work permit. The faster we speed up this process, the better off they — and America — will be.
The desire to work and earn is at the very heart of why millions of people have risked their lives to come to America in search of a better life. We should harness this, not resist it.
Eliminating the six-month restriction on migrant work permits will lighten the economic burden many cities are shouldering — notably New York City, which is expected to spend $5 billion this year on support services for migrants who have nowhere to go and no ability to provide for themselves.
Mayor Eric Adams has pleaded for the federal government to speed up work permits for migrants. It’s beyond time for lawmakers to act and make this happen.
Critics will argue such proposals only encourage more migrants to come to America. That’s a reasonable concern, except none of these policies exist now and migrants are already entering the country in record numbers. Over 100,000 parents with children entered America illegally in September alone. As of October, 2.5 million migrant encounters have occurred at the southern border this year — the most ever.
We can pretend this isn’t happening, or we can run straight at it — and find ways to support migrants and strengthen the American economy at the same time. Fast-tracking work permits for migrants supports both goals.
Buffalo’s acceptance of migrant labor led to a period of city growth which it hadn’t experienced in 70 years. Refugees have found meaningful employment which has brought dignity to their lives, and the companies and the cities that have embraced them have flourished as a result.
Unemployment is low in America, which means many job openings are going unfilled due to high demand. There is an army of workers on the sidelines — many with transferable work skills and experience — eager to earn a living and support America’s economy if lawmakers choose to govern and not grandstand.
The question of how we solve the migrant crisis isn’t answered exclusively with stronger border security policies. Biden has already created a fast lane for migrants from Venezuela to receive faster work authorization. We should make this federal law, for all migrants, so that everyone seeking legal entry into America may benefit.
Giving them a faster path to work will help America and bring significant relief to those who’ve put everything on the line in pursuit of the American dream.
Lyndon Haviland is a distinguished scholar at the CUNY School of Public Health and Health Policy.
Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.