February 22, 2024

Tensions are simmering as immigrants to the US seek work permits

In New York, migrants at a city-run shelter are grumbling that relatives who settled before them are refusing to offer a bed. In Chicago, a mental health provider to people in the country illegally switched to newcomers sleeping in a police station across the street. In South Florida, some immigrants complain that people who came later are receiving work permits that are out of their reach.

Across the country, mayors, governors and others have been strong advocates for newly arrived migrants seeking shelter and work permits. Their efforts and existing laws have exposed tensions among immigrants who have been in the country for years, even decades, and do not enjoy the same benefits, especially work permits. And some newcomers believe established immigrants have given them cold shoulders.

Thousands of immigrants marched in Washington this month to ask President Biden to extend work permits to long-time residents. Some signs say: “Work permits for everyone!” and “I’ve been waiting for a permit for 34 years.”

Despite a brief lull when new asylum restrictions came into effect in May, arrests for illegal border crossings from Mexico topped 2 million for the second year in a row in the government’s budget year ending September 30. Moreover, hundreds of thousands of migrants have been legally arrested. admitted to the country last year under new policies aimed at discouraging illegal crossings.

“The growing wave of arrivals makes our immigration advocacy more challenging. Their arrival has created some tension and some doubt,” said U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García, a Chicago Democrat whose largely Latino district includes a large immigrant population. People have been waiting for decades for an opportunity to get a green card to legalize and have a path to citizenship.

Asylum seekers must wait six months for a work permit. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, processing takes no longer than a month and a half for 80% of applicants.

Those crossing the border through the Biden administration’s new legal pathways won’t have to wait at all. Under a temporary legal status known as parole, 270,000 people from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela arrived in October by applying online to a financial sponsor. Another 324,000 people were given an appointment to enter a border crossing with Mexico through a mobile app called CBP One.

The government said in September it would seek to reduce waiting times for work permits to 30 days for those using the new routes. By the end of September, 1.4 million emails and text messages had been sent reminding those eligible to work.

José Guerrero, who worked in construction after arriving from Mexico 27 ​​years ago, acknowledged that many newcomers felt forced to flee their country. He says he wants the same treatment.

“All these immigrants come and they give them everything so easily, and nothing to us who have been working and paying taxes for years,” said Guerrero, now a landscaper in Homestead, Florida, about 39 miles south of Miami. “They give these people everything in their hands.”

The White House is asking Congress for $1.4 billion for food, shelter and other services for newcomers. The mayors of New York, Denver, Chicago, Los Angeles and Houston wrote to Biden last month demanding $5 billion, noting that the influx has depleted budgets and cut essential services.

The mayors also support temporary status – and work permits – for people who have been in the US longer, but have focused on newcomers.

“All newcomers arriving in our cities are looking for an opportunity to work, and every day we receive calls from business leaders who have open positions and want to hire these newcomers,” the mayors wrote. “We can successfully welcome and integrate these newcomers and help them pursue the American Dream if they have the opportunity to work.”

Many newcomers are undeniably finding themselves in difficult circumstances, including some who hoped to join family and friends only to find their calls blocked and messages unanswered.

Angel Hernandez, a Venezuelan who walked through Panama’s infamous Darién Gap rainforest where he witnessed dead bodies, was severely disappointed when he reached New York. The construction worker said he and his aunt, uncle and their two children left Colombia after more than three years because work dried up.

Hernandez, 20, planned to settle with his uncle’s brother, who settled in the United States about a year earlier and lives in a house with a steady job. His own job search was fruitless.

“Everyone is out for themselves,” he said outside the Roosevelt Hotel, a property in Midtown Manhattan that was closed until the city opened it to migrants in May.

The influx has left many immigrant service groups in financial trouble.

The Latino Treatment Center has provided substance abuse treatment for decades to many immigrants living in Chicago without legal status. It started helping newcomers sleep at the police station across the street, fixed a shower in the office for migrants to use a few days a week and offered counseling.

“It’s such a unique situation that we weren’t prepared for,” said Adriana Trino, the group’s executive director. “This was a completely different wheelhouse. The needs are so different.”

Many organizations deny friction and say they have been able to make ends meet.

“We try to keep a balance between doing both: people who have been here for years and people who are arriving, and so far we have been able to serve everyone,” said Diego Torres of the Latin American Coalition, which helps immigrants. in Charlotte, NC

In Atlanta, the Latin American Assn. says it spent $50,000 this year on temporary housing and other assistance for newcomers. Santiago Marquez, the organization’s CEO, has felt no resentment.

“Our key customers – most of them immigrants – understand the plight,” he said. ‘They’ve been through it. They understand.”

Still, it’s easy to find immigrants with deep roots in the United States who chafe at the unequal treatment.

A 45-year-old Mexican woman who came to the United States 25 years ago and has three U.S.-born children said it was unfair that newcomers were given work permits above her. She makes $150 a week picking sweet potatoes in Homestead.

“For humanitarian reasons they give opportunities to those who arrive, and where is humanity with us?” said the woman, who asked to be identified only by her last name, Hernandez, because she fears being deported.

The meeting in Washington reflected an effort by advocates to push for work permits for everyone, regardless of when they came.

“It is a system that has put a strain on our city and is currently causing conflict between neighbors.” Lawrence Benito, head of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said this at a rally in Chicago last month.

Tareen reported from Chicago. Associated Press writers RJ Rico in Atlanta, Elliot Spagat in New York and Erik Verduzco in Charlotte, N.C., contributed to this report.

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