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Advocates Demand Equality as Immigrants in the US Protest Work Permit Disparities

Credit: DepositPhotos

Migrants staying at a city-run shelter in New York are frustrated that their relatives who arrived earlier are not offering them a place to stay. In Chicago, a mental health services provider for undocumented individuals has had to accommodate new arrivals sleeping at a nearby police station.

Meanwhile, immigrants in South Florida are complaining that those who arrived later are able to obtain work permits that are unattainable for them. These situations highlight the tensions and inequalities between immigrants who have been in the United States for many years without the same benefits, particularly work permits. Some new arrivals feel rejected by established immigrants.

Thousands of immigrants recently participated in a march in Washington, calling on President Joe Biden to extend work authorization to longtime residents. Signs were held up proclaiming, “Work permits for all!” and “I have been waiting 34 years for a permit.”

Despite a brief decrease in illegal border crossings due to new asylum restrictions, arrests for illegal border crossings from Mexico exceeded 2 million for the second year in a row in the government’s fiscal year ending on September 30th.

Additionally, hundreds of thousands of migrants have been legally admitted to the country in the past year through new policies aimed at discouraging illegal crossings.

“The growing wave of arrivals makes our immigration advocacy more challenging. Their arrival has created tensions and raised questions,” stated U.S. Representative Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a Democrat from Chicago.

He represents a predominantly Latino district with a large immigrant population. Many people “have been waiting for decades for an opportunity to get a green card to legalize and have a pathway to citizenship.”

Asylum-seekers must wait six months to receive work authorization. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, processing takes no longer than 1.5 months for 80% of applicants.

For those who enter the country through the Biden administration’s new legal pathways, there is no required waiting period at all. Through temporary legal status known as parole, 270,000 people from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela arrived through October by applying online with a financial sponsor. Another 324,000 individuals obtained appointments to enter through a land crossing with Mexico by using the CBP One mobile app.

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In September, the administration announced its plans to reduce the wait times for work permits to 30 days for those utilizing the new pathways. By late September, 1.4 million emails and texts had been sent to remind eligible individuals about their work authorization.

José Guerrero, who came to the United States from Mexico 27 years ago and worked in construction, acknowledged that many new arrivals felt compelled to flee their countries. He expressed his desire for equal treatment, saying, “All these immigrants come, and they are given everything so easily, but we have been working for years and paying taxes without receiving anything in return. They give everything to these people but nothing to us.”

The White House is requesting $1.4 billion from Congress to provide food, shelter, and other services for new arrivals. The mayors of New York, Denver, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Houston wrote a letter to President Joe Biden last month requesting $5 billion in funding, emphasizing that the influx of migrants has strained budgets and led to cuts in essential services.

While the mayors also support temporary status and work permits for long-time residents, they have focused their efforts on addressing the needs of new arrivals.

“All of the newcomers arriving in our cities are looking for the chance to work, and every day we receive calls from business leaders who have unfilled jobs and want to hire these newcomers,” the mayors stated in their letter. “We can successfully welcome and integrate these newcomers and help them pursue the American Dream if they have a chance to work.”

Many new arrivals are facing dire circumstances, including those who hoped to reunite with family and friends but are unable to reach them due to blocked calls and unanswered messages.

Angel Hernandez, a Venezuelan who endured the treacherous journey through Panama’s Darien Gap rainforest, where he witnessed corpses, was deeply disappointed upon reaching New York.

The construction worker and his aunt, uncle, and two cousins left Colombia after more than three years due to a lack of job opportunities. Despite his efforts, Hernandez has been unsuccessful in his job search.

“Everyone is out for themselves,” he lamented outside the Roosevelt Hotel in Midtown Manhattan, which was temporarily reopened for migrants in May.

The influx of new arrivals has placed significant financial strain on many immigrant service organizations. The Latino Treatment Center in Chicago, which has long provided assistance with drug abuse to undocumented immigrants, has had to expand its services to accommodate new arrivals sleeping at the nearby police station.

They have set up a shower in their office for migrants to use a few days a week and have started offering counseling.

“It is such a unique situation that we weren’t prepared for,” explained Adriana Trino, the executive director of the organization. “The needs are so different in this case.”

Although some organizations have faced challenges, many deny any friction and claim they have been able to meet the needs of both long-time residents and new arrivals. Diego Torres from the Latin American Coalition, which assists immigrants in Charlotte, North Carolina, stated, “We’re trying to strike a balance by serving both people who have been here for years and those who are arriving, and so far, we have been able to help everyone.”

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Photo Credit: DepositPhotos

The Latin American Association in Atlanta has spent $50,000 this year on temporary housing and other assistance for new arrivals. According to Santiago Marquez, the organization’s CEO, he has not observed any resentment from their core clients, who are primarily immigrants. He noted, “Our clients understand the challenges. They have gone through it. They understand.”

Nevertheless, it is easy to find immigrants with deep roots in the United States who are frustrated with the unequal treatment. A 45-year-old Mexican woman who arrived in the U.S. 25 years ago and has three U.S.-born children expressed her dissatisfaction with the fact that new arrivals are granted work permits while she is not. She earns only $150 a week picking sweet potatoes in Homestead, Florida.

“For humanitarian reasons, they are giving opportunities to those who are arriving, but what about humanity toward us?” the woman, who chose to be identified by her last name, Hernandez, to protect her identity, asked, fearing deportation.

The recent rally in Washington aimed to advocate for work permits for all immigrants, regardless of their arrival date. Lawrence Benito, the head of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, expressed the conflict that arises from the current system, stating at a rally in Chicago, “It is a system that has strained our city and, at this moment, it brings conflict between neighbors.”

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