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August 17, 2023

Campbell: Immigrant work approvals needlessly delayed by feds

Photo | Courtesy of State House News Service Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Campbell

Attorney General Andrea Campbell and 18 of her counterparts from around the country urged the federal government Wednesday to expedite the work authorization process for immigrants, who are experiencing "incredibly long waits" spanning 10 months or longer for their applications to be approved.

Immigrants want to work to support themselves in the United States -- and businesses want to hire them -- but that opportunity has been "needlessly delayed by inconsistencies in grants of parole and application processing delays," the coalition of attorneys general wrote in a letter to U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas.

"Addressing processing delays will ensure that work-eligible newcomers will become self-sufficient as soon as possible and not be forced to rely on state resources," the letter said. "We therefore urge immediate action to ensure work authorization for new arrivals to help meet our workforce needs, conserve safety net resources for the most vulnerable in our states, and provide our newcomers the opportunity to contribute to the country in which they have sought refuge."

The letter was signed by attorneys general in Massachusetts, Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, according to Campbell's office.

Those states -- which need workers in "key" industries including food service, retail, transportation, health care and hospitality -- are seeing thousands of new arrivals each month from Latin America, Haiti, Ukraine and the Middle East, the letter said.

The delay from the Biden administration in addressing the lengthy work authorization process has translated into an "increasing burden" on states providing resources to vulnerable families, including food, shelter, education and medical care, according to the letter.

Attorneys general said the burden is evident in Massachusetts, which is a right-to-shelter state, as support and stabilization resources "have been pushed to a breaking point" amid an influx of immigrants. The letter outlines how Massachusetts has opened two immigrant resource centers, housed migrants at Joint Base Cape Cod, and used hotels and motels as a "last resort" to house families.

"Many newcomers do not have and cannot expeditiously procure the work authorization they need to transition to self-sufficiency. As a result, the numbers of families requiring assistance continues to grow without relief in sight," the letter said. "States without right-to-shelter laws may not have experienced the same strain on housing resources as Massachusetts. But all states have been affected by delays in authorizing work-eligible adults to work."

The letter comes a week after Gov. Maura Healey declared a state of emergency as the situation escalates in Massachusetts, with the state's emergency shelter system strained by housing nearly 5,600 families. More than 1,800 families are living in hotels and motels that have been converted to emergency shelters, the governor's office said last week.

In her own letter to Mayorkas last Tuesday, Healey said Massachusetts lacks the tools to meet the "rapidly rising demand for emergency shelter" despite the state spending more than $45 million each month to support families. Healey warned that "without extraordinary measures," including swift action from the Biden administration on work authorizations, officials "fear we will be unable to add capacity fast enough to place all eligible families safely into shelter."

Wednesday's letter also echoes the request from the state's congressional delegation earlier this month, to Mayorkas and Ur Jaddou, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, to streamline and expedite work authorizations requests for applicants who may be waiting six months or longer.

The attorneys general pressed Mayorkas to allow people who are paroled into the U.S. to work while their work authorization applicants are pending, automatically renew work permits when immigrants' parole or other immigration status is renewed, and provide access to online fee waivers to ensure people don't need to "go through the more arduous and slow paper application process."

They also called on the federal government to address inconsistent parole timelines, writing that granting an initial two years of parole is a "fair and reasonable amount of time."

Comprehensive immigration reform is also needed, the attorneys general said in the letter, as they asked for executive action to invest in boosting staffing and "administrative efficiency" for the federal government "to address the years-long backlogs in adjudication of asylum and other forms of immigration relief."

"In the meantime, everyone would benefit if working-age adults who have arrived in our states had expedient and enduring access to work authorization pending final resolution of their claims for asylum or other relief," the letter states.

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