Welcome to Emerson Collective’s Immigration Update, a monthly newsletter that seeks to make sense of important immigration-related developments by situating them in broader policy, political, and human contexts.
Before we dive in, we need to acknowledge the horrific developments in Israel and Gaza. Hamas’ attacks in Israel were appalling and we mourn the untold devastation to families and communities throughout the area. We grieve the loss of so many innocent lives in both Israel and Gaza, call for the safe return of all hostages, and hope for a peaceful end to this conflict. If you are looking for organizations to support during this time, our partners at CARE International and World Central Kitchen are providing humanitarian relief, medical care, shelter, food, and other necessities in both Israel and Gaza.
This month we cover three important developments: multilevel efforts to expedite employment authorization for recent arrivals; the record high number of people on the move across the Americas; and the White House’s $105 billion request for supplemental funding including $14 billion for border and migration management.
As always, thank you for reading.
Managing Director of Immigration
In our August edition, we discussed the crippling labor shortages faced by the U.S. and the bipartisan calls for the Biden-Harris administration to streamline the work authorization process. The pleas from governors, Members of Congress, and business leaders to enable recently arrived migrants to work were heeded and DHS is moving on many fronts to accelerate the process and has requested $1.4B from Congress to help states manage new arrivals.
Still, more can and must be done to shorten the time migrants remain on the sidelines of the formal economy. The input of state and local leaders and advocates – and the administration’s willingness to listen and collaborate – have enhanced the ability of migrants to navigate these often confusing and cumbersome bureaucratic procedures, leading to better outcomes for all.
For example, New York City has developed "a work permit clinic that organizers want replicated and scaled up." This program “was the first time that New York city, state and federal workers had collaborated to guide people through submitting applications for employment authorization documents, or EADs, on site”. This approach, which screened 2,000 people in one day and yielded 1700 new work permit applications, highlights the opportunities for maximizing efficiencies through deeper public-private collaboration.
Additionally, enabling our new neighbors to work alleviates resource challenges and creates a virtuous circle. Newly arrived immigrants can leverage the skills they bring to provide for their families, which limits pressure on stretched local government resources, all the while filling gaps in the labor market. Streamlining the application process for work permits also reduces pressure on “under the table” arrangements and ensures all workers are protected from abuse and exploitation. It is both an economic investment and a commonsense solution.
Governors from across the country have been echoing the need to simplify and expedite access to work permits. Governor Murphy (NJ) took it one step further, directing the state to invest $2.5 million to provide EAD application support.
Earlier this month, Emerson Collective brought together our Governors Opportunity and Inclusion Fellowship cohort along with several state Offices for New Americans to meet with the Biden administration on a variety of shared concerns – including workforce development, benefits eligibility, language access, and resettlement of recent arrivals.
Recognizing the administration’s hard work and progress on this issue – including the momentous accomplishments of both the extension of TPS and increased 5-year validity period for some EADs, as well as a commitment to speedy EAD processing – the group emphasized that more remains to be done to help new arrivals get to work. Common sense recommendations include:
Establishing community-based application processing centers and providing support in partnership with USCIS,
Allowing fee-waiver applications to be filed online, and providing immediate provisional work authorization when individuals are processed at the border through the CBP One app.
We applaud the ongoing efforts to accelerate access to employment authorization for recently arrived migrants. Creaky bureaucratic processes should not prevent willing, eligible workers from filling critical labor shortages.
Panama is reporting that the number of migrants crossing Colombia and Panama's Darien Gap in 2023 surpassed 440,000 this month – a new record literally unimaginable just a couple of years ago. The portent of even greater migration and the manifold implications for communities throughout the hemisphere has focused the attention of a broad range of government leaders. When the Mayor of New York City travels to Mexico, Panama and Colombia to better understand the factors driving people to migrate to his city, it underscores the imperative of leaning hard into the migration management models and solutions we have been proposing: more accessible legal pathways and multilateral financing for host community stabilization and integration.
During his visit to Necoclí, on the Colombian side of the Darien, Mayor Eric Adams learned that the country has received almost 3 million Venezuelan migrants and enabled them to apply for 10-year residency permits that give them access to work, health, and education services. After the visit, he emphasized that “countries like Colombia need more support” as Latin American economies are still reeling from the pandemic and migrants are struggling to integrate, which motivates them to continue moving, often north.
Similarly, at a regional summit on migration in Mexico that gathered 12 Latin American countries – and no U.S. representatives – the Mexican President emphasized the need to “combine efforts, will and resources to tackle the causes of the migratory phenomenon. This is a humanitarian issue on which we must work united”. The summit’s joint agreement proposes that countries be allowed to renegotiate debt with financial institutions to free up resources for domestic investment. “We should propose coordinated efforts to redesign the international financial architecture of sovereign debt. This will help countries, especially middle-income ones, achieve higher levels of development, bridge social gaps and mitigate the forces that drive people to migrate.”
Meanwhile, the White House announced that President Biden will host leaders from Latin American nations at a summit on November 3. Included in the discussion will be measures to address regional migration. We encourage these leaders to deepen their commitment to strategies that expand legal pathways for migrants and mobilize financial mechanisms to support integration efforts throughout the region. The enforcement-only strategies that continue to be discussed may provide short term political cover but have little to no effect on overall migration flows – just more misery and chaos.
The November 3 convening will come more than a year after 21 countries signed the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection, a historic framework that provides a roadmap to improve the status quo. As then, regional leaders must raise their ambition and, in partnership with multilateral development banks and the private sector, take decisive action to stabilize migrant hosting communities throughout the Americas.
In response to the challenges highlighted in the prior sections, the White House has called on Congress to provide significant additional resources to strengthen migrant processing capacities at the U.S.-Mexico border as well as stabilize and integrate migrants both in the U.S. and throughout the hemisphere.
While we can certainly register concern about some of the line-item requests – e.g. $2.5B for, among other things, additional detention beds at the border to hold individuals during processing – much of what the administration has requested points squarely in the right direction. Unquestionably we need a vaster ability to quickly and fairly review and process people who arrive at our border, so the request for 375 more immigration judge teams and 1600 new asylum officers is overdue. Additionally, the $755M for USCIS to address backlogs in our asylum, work permit, and permanent status application systems highlights the imperative of making the system a functional one that incentivizes the use of existing legal pathways.
Importantly, the administration is also signaling the prioritization of hemispheric migration solutions by requesting $1.3B to support efforts in the Americas that improve migration management and reduce irregular migration to the U.S. The request includes funding to increase protection screenings and expand legal migration and protection pathways, including through Safe Mobility Offices (SMOs) established in several countries throughout the region.
Perhaps the most innovative request is to allocate dollars towards the stabilization and integration of migrant and host communities to mitigate the risk of propelling migrants who have settled once to move again, so-called secondary displacements. We particularly welcome the administration’s intention to use the Economic Support Fund to expand access to labor pathways and boost the engagement of the private sector and multilateral partners to spur greater investments in stabilization and integration. These are exactly the types of initiatives needed to reactivate economies following the pandemic and support communities hosting significant migrant populations.