White House officials push back on Mayor Adams, say some NYC migrants already eligible to work

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NEW YORK — Senior officials in President Biden‘s administration pushed back Tuesday against Mayor Eric Adams‘ claims the White House isn’t doing enough to help migrants in New York City, pointing out that an unspecified number of asylum seekers who’ve arrived are already eligible to apply for legal work authorizations.

The officials, who spoke with reporters on background Tuesday morning, conceded that they do not know precisely how many asylum seekers in New York City are now eligible to apply for work authorizations, but suggested those answers might reside within the Adams’ administration, which is surveying its shelter population to determine the method by which migrants are seeking asylum.

“One thing is abundantly clear to me: there is a critical mass of people in New York City — I don’t have a specific number — but there’s a critical mass that we are confident are eligible to apply for work authorization immediately,” one administration official said.

The Biden administration’s message comes a week after Adams said the migrant crisis would “destroy” New York City and after he’s demanded for months that the federal government expedite work authorizations for the thousands of migrants currently in the city’s care. Since April 2022, about 110,000 migrants have come to the city, most crossing into the country through the U.S.-Mexico border. About 60,000 of those are either being housed in city-provided shelter or receiving some form of other material assistance from the city.

In his efforts to manage both the migrant crisis and the city’s budget, Adams announced over the weekend his proposal to cut as much as 15% from every city agency budgets by next spring — a possible $10 billion cut that Nathan Gusdorf, executive director of the Fiscal Policy Institute, said Tuesday “significantly overstates the fiscal impact of migrant arrivals.”

Adams has projected that caring for the migrants will cost the city $12 billion by 2025.

Earlier Tuesday morning, during an appearance on ABC’s “Eyewitness News Morning @ 10,” the mayor continued to talk about the urgency over the crisis, but also revealed he hasn’t communicated with President Biden directly about it “since earlier this year.”

“I spoke with the White House chief of staff yesterday and shared some of my thoughts and ideas and the economic impact of it,” he revealed.

Adams, who stood beside Vice President Kamala Harris during Monday’s 9/11 commemoration ceremony, did not say whether or not he spoke to her about the migrant situation a day before, though.

The two Biden administration officials who spoke Tuesday framed their presentation to reporters around what the White House is doing to help the city in its struggle to manage the situation.

Among the topics they touched on were the three ways migrants coming into America are seeking asylum. One is geared toward immigrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela who entered into the U.S. lawfully, which allows them to apply for work authorization immediately and be approved for it typically within six to eight weeks.

A second method is through the federal government’s Customs and Border Patrol One app, which allows asylum seekers to register with the feds prior to entering the U.S. and then apply for work authorization immediately upon entry. The process to receive work authorization through the app, which was created earlier this year by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, also takes about two months to complete.

The third — and most onerous — method of seeking asylum is crossing the border into the U.S. without applying for entry beforehand. Obtaining a work authorization in those cases is bound to last at least six months, but can often take longer depending on when an asylum application is filed.

It’s unclear exactly how many migrants in New York City fall under which category, but the officials in Biden’s administration noted that at least 160,000 adults have come into the U.S. using the CBP One app — but less than 20% of them have so far applied for work authorization.

Spokespeople from Mayor Adams’ team did not immediately provide answers when asked to provide breakdowns of how many migrants fall into which asylum-seeking category.

Adams’ spokeswoman Kayla Mamelak noted that about 20% of migrants in the city’s care have filed asylum applications, but said that figure likely doesn’t account for the total number of applications filed in the city because it doesn’t include those filed with legal assistance from non-profits.

An Adams’ administration official also noted that using the CBP One app carries with it a $410 fee, which could be steep for many of the impoverished migrants who’ve come to the city.

The White House didn’t respond to questions about the number of asylum applications filed and accepted since April 2022.

During his television appearance Tuesday, Adams pointed to the “thousands of jobs” now available in New York City as part of his rationale for the White House to do more.

“That’s the irony of it. Like, we needed lifeguards over the summer. We could have filled those jobs,” he said. “So we’re hoping that the federal government looks at what we’re saying and makes it happen.”

Adams contended that the current situation has created a “black market of employment” pervaded by low wages, women “being sexually exploited” and an increase in prostitution.

“People have to provide for their families,” he said. “It’s really going to impact the quality of life in our city if we don’t get this issue right.”

The Biden administration officials noted that for people coming over the border without first seeking approval from the federal government the timeframe around receiving work authorizations is a matter of federal law — and can’t be changed without Congress enacting a new law.

“We can’t change that. Only Congress can,” said one official. “What we can do is mobilize our team, not just at the Department of Homeland Security, but across the federal government to work collaboratively with communities.”

The second Biden administration official emphasized the need for outreach to migrants in order to determine when they’re eligible to work. As part of that effort, the federal government is sending 50 people to the city to help migrants navigate both the work authorization process and how to apply for asylum.

The official said the feds don’t know how many migrants in New York City are now eligible to apply for work authorizations, but that the city government “is actively surveying its shelter population to better understand” that situation.

Other measures the Biden administration is taking include alerting state education departments about federal money to help address the costs of additional migrant students now enrolled in public schools, identifying housing voucher funding for citizens that can help alleviate the burden felt in homeless shelters and sending a supplemental budget request to Congress for additional cash to address the crisis.

The Biden administration officials also fielded a question about efforts in Albany to pass a law allowing the state to grant work authorization to migrants and pointed out that such authorizations clearly fall under federal jurisdiction.

“It is not something that we would encourage states to pursue,” one official said. “Our position has been that it is a clear federal authority.”