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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Federal officials tell New York City to improve its handling of migrant crisis, raise questions about local response

The Biden administration this week urged New York to provide better information to migrants about the immigration process and to expedite their departure from city shelters, issuing recommendations that seemed to question the effectiveness of a local effort to house tens of thousands of newcomers.

Erin Heeter, a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security, said the recommendations were issued by a team DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas had assigned to examine New York City’s network of over 200 hotels and other makeshift shelters that are currently housing nearly 60,000 migrants.

The recommendations by DHS represent the Biden administration’s most substantive response to increasingly vocal pleas from New York leaders, including Mayor Eric Adams, seeking to secure additional federal support for the city’s migrant housing effort, which has triggered some local backlash and created rifts between city, state and federal Democrats.

The DHS team came up with four main suggestions, according to department officials, including a call for New York to improve the information it collects on migrants and renewed efforts to give migrants information on how to apply for work permits and leave the local shelter system. DHS also recommended that the city provide lawyers and case managers to migrants across shelters, with the goal of helping them exit the shelter system more expeditiously.

Finally, the DHS team called on federal officials to provide more information to migrant communities about applying for asylum and work authorization.

In a statement to CBS News, Heeter, the DHS spokesperson, said the department’s team was “impressed with the exceptional efforts by New York officials under the ongoing strain of accepting a large number of migrants.”

“DHS continues to collaborate with city and state officials, along with our federal partners, to identify ways we can maximize the value of our continued partnership to address, in a humane and orderly manner, the needs of migrants who have arrived in New York,” Heeter added.

The recommendations, first reported by Politico, did not address the intensifying local calls, led by Adams and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, for the Biden administration to allow migrants to apply for work permits more quickly by granting them a temporary legal status.

Local officials and advocates have argued that if migrants receive parole or Temporary Protected Status — both short-term immigration classifications — they can apply for work permits without having to request asylum and waiting six months to be eligible for work authorization, a requirement that only Congress can change.

But Biden administration officials have resisted these calls due to concerns about being sued by Republican-led states and potentially encouraging more migrants to cross the U.S.-Mexico border unlawfully, CBS News reported earlier this month.

DHS officials said Tuesday that the administration has identified 11 federal sites in New York that can be used to house migrants. They’ve noted the administration has allowed New York to use a federal hangar at John F. Kennedy airport to house up to 800 migrants and is in talks to let local officials convert the Floyd Bennett airfield in Brooklyn into a temporary shelter.

Kayla Mamelak, a spokesperson for the New York mayor’s office, said local officials were “grateful that our federal partners are now engaging in a collaborative process.” But she said the city’s requests remained “unaddressed.”

“We continue to call on the Biden administration to take the lead in implementing a decompression strategy at the border, expedite pathways to work authorizations for asylum seekers, to declare a state of emergency facilitating swift allocation of federal funds to address our pressing challenges, and to provide more funding to match the reality of the course on the ground,” Mamelak said.

New York is not the only city that has struggled to house migrants. Over the past year, other large cities like Boston, Chicago and Denver have found their resources strained by the arrival of tens of thousands of migrants released by federal border officials. The influx has tested the commitments of Democratic-led cities to be sanctuaries for migrants, exposed deepening political divides on immigration and drawn criticism from local Democrats of the Biden administration.

The cities’ woes stem from a complicated set of factors, including the arrival of millions of migrants to the U.S. southern border in the past two years, over 2 million of whom have been allowed to stay in the country while their cases are reviewed by a backlogged system. Texas’ effort to bus migrants to Democratic-led cities and a shortage in affordable housing have also contributed to the crisis.

The Biden administration has said it has responded to the cites’ growing concerns and challenges by allocating more than $700 million in federal funds this fiscal year, including $140 million to New York, so local officials and groups can assist and shelter migrants.

Earlier this year, the administration also created programs that allow certain migrants to apply for work permits immediately after entering the U.S. However, those programs, open to some migrants with U.S. sponsors and asylum-seekers in Mexico who use a government app, do not benefit those already in the country without legal status.

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