At almost any migrant shelter in New York it’s easy to see men — sitting on curbs or park benches — waiting. Eddie is one of those people, sitting under a highway overpass, eating a lunch of rice and chicken. He asked that his last name be withheld, because he says he’s fleeing violence between armed groups in Colombia.

Eddie wants to apply for asylum but more immediately, he just wants to work. Like so many migrants, he keeps getting asked for work papers. The fact that he doesn’t have them, he says, keeps him up at night.

It’s not just Eddie who wants Eddie to work. Lawmakers around the country have been pressing the federal government to expedite work papers for asylum-seekers. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul last Thursday publicly criticized the Biden administration for lack of action on immigration. Her remarks echoed those of New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who said recently, “We must expedite work authorization for asylum-seekers, not in the future, but now.”

Adams has been one of the loudest voices on the matter: New York has received around 100,000 migrants seeking shelter. Chicago and Boston — also recipients of thousands of people — have joined the request.

Business leaders are also desperate for more work permits. “I don’t think there’s a single person who can’t think of a situation in the last six months where they walked into a business and it wasn’t understaffed,” says Scott Grams, executive director of the Illinois Landscape Contractors Association. Grams recently signed a petition, along with over 120 other businesses leaders, asking President Biden to expedite work permits for industries where there are labor shortages: manufacturing, farm work and hospitality just to name a few.


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