As Senate Republicans push for hardline border measures in negotiations with the White House, the Biden administration is quietly working to improve its signature “legal pathway” to solve a problem that has confounded Democrat-led cities receiving tens of thousands of migrants: getting fast work permits for those who cross lawfully.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services recently set up a pre-registration program – pioneered in Brownsville, Texas, and replicated in El Paso and San Ysidro, California – to more quickly process work permits for migrants who present at the border using the CBP One app appointment system, operated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
“It’s a game changer,” said Kari Lenander, executive director of Border Servant Corps, the nonprofit hosting USCIS in its El Paso migrant logistics center.
We’ve seen grown men cry when they realize they can’t work legally,” Lenander said. Now, “everyone who leaves CBP One is eligible for the initial registration. It seems like an incentive for people to come through CBP One,” rather than cross illegally between ports of entry.
The Department of Homeland Security, the parent agency of USCIS, announced in September it would accelerate processing of work permits for migrants paroled into the country after their CBP One appointment.
Democrat-led cities including New York and Chicago were clamoring for help supporting the tens of thousands of migrants arriving, often bused in from the Texas border by Gov. Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star. New York Mayor Eric Adams urged the federal government to facilitate access to work permits as his city struggled to aid more than 126,000 asylum seekers and other migrants who had few resources, needed shelter and had no authorization to find work.
“Let them work! Give them the opportunity to contribute to our society,” Adams said in September. “We’re saying we must expedite work visas. It’s just common sense. Thousands of jobs are available to be filled.”
Two months later, USCIS has made steady progress, the agency told USA TODAY. The median processing time for CBP One-associated work permits is approximately 30 days. Previously, migrants reported waiting four or more months from the date they applied.
The agency is also providing on-the-ground work permit registrations in New York City, Chicago, Boston and Denver – resulting in nearly 5,000 work permits, USCIS said. It’s a fraction of the 1,450 individuals per day, nearly 45,000 a month, who are processed via CBP One appointments at ports of entry from California to Texas.
Adam Isacson, who studies border security for the Washington Office on Latin America, called the program “a great idea.”
“It sounds like a response to Eric Adams,” he said, and another incentive for migrants to choose a lawful pathway. “All of the legal pathways that have increased order are worthwhile, and CBP One is one of them. Anything that discourages people from crossing the river.”
‘The way to cross legally’
Unlike tens of thousands of other migrants attempting to cross between ports of entry, Milai and Arnaldo Hernández from Cuba made an appointment on the CBP One app.
They signed up while traveling through Mexico in October, then hunkered down in Aguascalientes, a city north of Mexico City, for two months with their twin 5-year-old daughters. The day before their Dec. 14 appointment, they traveled to Ciudad Juárez at the border across from El Paso.
They chose that route, instead of crossing between ports, because “it’s the way to cross legally,” Milai Hernández said.
The opportunity to quickly get temporary work permits appears meant to offset the drawback of waiting in Mexico, encouraging migrants to sit tight rather than rush to the border.
“They would like people to understand that (employment authorization) can be a very big help and encourage them not to cross illegally,” said Ruben Garcia, executive director of El Paso’s Annunciation House shelter network, to which the Border Servant Corps belongs.
“USCIS said, ‘What if we opened a satellite office where we could begin the process?’ They’ll take your photograph and your bio information so when you get to where you are going – to your cousin in Detroit, for example – and you go to USCIS, they already have you on file.”
Those who register on site for the permits are receiving the cards, plastic and irreplicable like a driver’s license, in as few as four weeks.
The new USCIS process in El Paso and Brownsville aims to educate migrants about work authorization as soon as they set foot in the U.S.
“CBP One always had the possibility that people could apply right away for work authorization,” Lenander said. “But they didn’t have folks on the ground; the process wasn’t literally, physically right there.”
CBP debuted the appointment scheduling function in January 2023, and the migrants on the bridge that morning were among the more than 324,000 individuals CBP says have successfully made appointments on the app through October.
Immigrant advocates criticized CBP One in the program’s early days, after tech and other glitches made scheduling difficult or impossible for some. Some advocates say CBP One still isn’t accessible for the most vulnerable migrants, who may not have access to a cellphone, stable Wi-Fi or a safe place to wait in Mexico.
“The administration has done a heroic job in increasing protections at ports of entry, but it’s still not enough,” said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director at the American Immigration Council. “There are people who aren’t aware and waiting three months isn’t a viable strategy when the conditions in northern Mexico are so dangerous.”
Republicans have criticized the program for ballooning the backlog in the immigration court system. Many of the migrants presenting at ports of entry are exiting with notices to appear in immigration court in cities nationwide, with dates sometimes four years into the future.
U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-Texas, said the long lead time for court appointments “has created a huge incentive for false asylum claims to be made,” given that migrants know they’ll be able to work for years before having to substantiate their claim. Gonzales’ congressional district includes part of El Paso and more than 800 miles of U.S.-Mexico border.
“We’re seeing migrants receive court dates of years down the line, our immigration courts are beyond backed up,” Gonzales said. “I’ve seen dates issued as far our as 2031, that’s unacceptable.”
Source: MSN News. Click here for the link to the full story Biden fast-tracks work authorization for migrants who cross legally (msn.com)