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Albany Legal Blog

The Migrant Crisis in New York

On Behalf of | Sep 7, 2023 | Immigration

In a totally different context, someone recently told my wife that life is complicated.  It is, to say the least.

In an era marked by globalization and the pursuit of better opportunities, for better or worse, migration has become a significant feature of modern society. New York City, often regarded as the epitome of diversity and economic vibrancy, plays a central role in this narrative (whether willingly or otherwise).

Of late, New York City’s status as a beacon of hope for immigrants seeking a better life has led to a significant influx of migrants (“migrants” being the common reference in the mainstream media to individuals crossing, primarily, our southern border).  This has come to be either because migrants pine to go there due to the diversity and economic opportunity it offers, or, more currently, because southern governors (and the federal government) are moving migrants from our southern border across the country, including to New York City.  With the significant influx, New York City Mayor Adams has taken steps to relocate many of them to our upstate communities.

With this as the backdrop, New Yorkers need to show empathy and pragmatism.

We should all want comprehensive and fair immigration reform to fix the broken system we now have, including what’s happening at our southern border. This includes our government making difficult decisions as to who to allow into the United States while individual asylum applicants wait for their claims to be adjudicated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) and, importantly, what those individuals can do while they wait.

For those individuals who have made it into the United States, and perhaps are waiting for legal assistance, or having found some, waiting for “their day in court”, it seems to me that the federal government (i.e., the Executive Branch and Congress) should be doing all that it can to put migrants to work while they’re waiting for “their day in court”.  By doing so, these individuals can meaningfully contribute to our nation’s economy and, at the same time, help employers, in New York and across the country, find qualified workers for jobs where there are known shortages of U.S. workers.

With a steady influx of migrants seeking a chance for a better life, the federal government, New York City, and indeed all New York communities, need to strike a balance between the need to fairly and compassionately enforce federal immigration policies against upholding our State’s and country’s humanitarian values.

Expediting immigrants’ ability to lawfully work in the United States is an excellent place to start. By doing so, migrants would be allowed to timely and meaningfully contribute to our local workforce which, any reasonable person or employer will tell you, is absolutely necessary. In doing so, migrants can also gain a sense of dignity, self-sufficiency and belonging while the federal government adjudicates their applications for asylum.  New York City and the entire State (speaking selfishly) will also gain a stronger and more diversified workforce.

As immigrants share their diverse skills, perspectives, and life experiences, New York businesses can harness this diversity to drive innovation and growth. Integrating immigrant labor can help bridge the gap that many industries are facing as significant labor shortages persist. By expediting work applications for employment authorization, the federal government can ensure that New York City, our upstate communities, and indeed employers across the country, have access to the talent they need to thrive.

Finally, a welcoming environment for immigrant workers would establish NYC and all of New York State, as an even greater global hub for talent, in all sectors of the State’s economy.

For these measures to be effective, collaboration between the State of New York and the federal government is paramount. While employers in communities throughout New York State can provide immigrants with the jobs they want and need, it is up to the federal government to perhaps create a new basis for migrants to start working in the U.S. during these very challenging times, or minimally create a mechanism to expedite work authorization applications for those asylum applicants who are eligible to apply for work authorization or have already applied.

Creating a new and/or simplified and efficient work authorization application process can better ensure that migrants can begin contributing to society without unnecessary delays. We might also consider assessing migrants’ skills so they can be matched with industries facing labor shortages so we can maximize their potential impact on our economy.

The migrant crisis is a challenge that requires strategic and compassionate solutions.  By expediting immigrants’ applications for permission to work, the federal government can address both the labor shortage and the needs of migrants seeking refuge. This approach can also contribute to our state and country’s economic growth and upholds the principles of inclusivity and diversity that help to define the United States.