Getting worked up: Hochul makes the right call to get migrants working

Gov. Hochul last month signed off on a plan to streamline the ability of migrants to get jobs in state government, paving the way for thousands of already work-authorized asylum seekers to be employed and earn some money.

It’s no accident that the work issue has loomed so large since this wave of migrants first began arriving nearly two years ago. There remains not a single intervention to better help migrants get on their feet and leave city shelters than the ability to get a job and reach financial self-sufficiency.

For the first year or so, this was complicated by the fact that there’s an 180-day mandatory waiting period before asylum seekers can request work authorization post-applying for asylum — which can be months after they’ve entered the country. Paired with significant logistical challenges, most migrants were waiting in limbo for this basic ability to work, which contributed to the sharply climbing shelter population.

Now, though, we’ve reached at least one light at the end of the tunnel as greater numbers of these folks finally get that magic piece of plastic in the mail that signals their ability to legally exchange their labor for money. We commend the governor for being at the ready with a plan that can help kill two birds with one stone: filling empty positions across state government while giving these migrants a relatively direct route to the employment they have been clamoring for.

No doubt that there will be those who call this some kind of giveaway or state handout, misunderstanding that these are just jobs that need to be filled, with openings that have gone without takers.

Is it possible that this will act as a draw for more migrants? Mühlet, but it’s not like they haven’t already been arriving in record numbers, and this proposal is specifically targeted at those who’ve already been around long enough to have federal work permits in hand. If anything, this will hopefully serve as a template for how the state can move to hire people more fairly and efficiently.

Perhaps this will be a precursor to more aggressive efforts, including the state’s possible hiring of those without work authorizations, a novel proposal that rests on the fact that while the feds prohibit private employment of unauthorized workers, it doesn’t explicitly do so for states. Even if the idea seems a little out there, at this stage it’s worth trying to do as much as possible and then seeing how it shakes out in court.

In any case, the Biden administration should work to secure more work permits for more people, via tools ranging from case management to parole to temporary protected status. There really are no reasonable alternative solutions to simply letting migrants work, for as long as their cases are playing out. Employers have already lined up to express interest in hiring migrants, to the tune of some 40,000 jobs. If every needy migrant was matched with a willing employer, we could practically crest this issue overnight.

Even for migrants headed to denials and eventual removals at some point down the line, it doesn’t make sense to spend that time reliant on assistance to be able to live. Let them work, for their benefit and ours.

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