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103 House Democrats join calls for Biden to open up the immigration playbook

Nearly half the House Democratic Caucus is calling on President Biden to put executive muscle into measures to help immigrants and asylum seekers get work papers.

In a letter signed by 103 lawmakers, the Democrats laid out three legal avenues to allow asylum seekers and certain undocumented immigrants to work legally, and for some undocumented immigrants to apply for permanent residency.

The House members joined calls by some Democratic senators and an array of labor, religious and civil rights organizations that have been pressing for the administration to adopt a more proactive approach on work authorization.

The lawmakers also underscored their support for expansion of Temporary Protected Status (TPS), but kept their specific policy suggestions to a set of targeted regulations.

"We write to urge the administration to use all the tools available to provide stability to undocumented individuals and recently arrived asylum seekers, seeking to work lawfully, support their families, and contribute to the economy," they wrote in the letter, first reported by Politico.

"While this letter does not focus on Temporary Protected Status (TPS), many of these individuals come from countries that warrant a designation or redesignation of TPS, and we support those on-going efforts."

The first focus is on work permits for asylum seekers.

Many asylum seekers' legal inability to work has contributed to escalating tensions between the Biden administration and Democratic mayors, particularly New York's Eric Adams.

"Allowing earlier access to work permits would decrease the pressure on states, cities, localities, and other community groups and provide asylum seekers with the opportunity to live more independent lives, find legal representation, and increase economic growth," wrote the lawmakers.

Administration officials have also expressed frustration that a number of asylum seekers are in fact eligible to work, but have not received the proper legal guidance to apply for work permits.

But the lawmakers pointed out that many prospective asylum seekers haven't even been able to register their asylum applications due to backlogs, preventing them from taking the next step to apply for work papers.

"As a result, through no fault of their own, they remain ineligible to work, making them unable to provide for their families and contribute to the economy. Many asylum seekers want to work and give back to their new communities," they wrote.

By law, asylum seekers can't get work papers until their application has been pending for 180 days, but regulations don't allow them to apply for their work permits until 150 days after that application.

The lawmakers proposed shortening that regulatory 150-day period to give asylum seekers a better chance at getting their papers as soon as they hit the 180 day mark.

They also called on the administration to extend its use of parole since foreign nationals who receive immigration parole are not subject to the 180-day waiting period.

Two other proposals that have been gaining steam in the immigrant advocacy world made it into the letter.

The lawmakers asked for a review of the provisional waiver program, targeted at foreign nationals who are eligible for a visa or green card but have spent more than 180 days in the United States illegally.

Often, undocumented immigrants who marry U.S. citizens are at once eligible to get papers and unable to apply because their record of unlawful presence bars them from changing their immigration status.

"Until recently, the provisional waiver has been a very successful and pro-family-unity policy designed to streamline the family-based immigrant visa process for eligible individuals who are part of American families," wrote the lawmakers.

"However, backlogs for the provisional waivers have grown at an alarming rate in recent years."

According to the lawmakers, wait times to get a provisional waivers are now 43.1 months on average, up from 4.5 months in fiscal 2018.

"Considering the circumstances, we strongly urge you to take immediate steps to address the backlog that go beyond future promises of increased operational capacity. Applicants and their families need meaningful immigration relief now," they wrote, suggesting that parole could also help ease the provisional waiver backlog.

Finally, the lawmakers called on the administration to streamline a program that allows longtime-resident undocumented immigrants to apply to stop deportation proceedings.

The cancellation of removal program is available to undocumented immigrants who have been in the United States for more than 10 years, have a limited or nonexistent criminal record, and whose departure would significantly impact their family in the country.

But the program is only available to longtime residents who have been placed in removal proceedings.

"Paradoxically, an individual who is more likely to be granted cancellation of removal and adjustment of status is less likely to access this relief because they will not be a priority for removal," wrote the lawmakers.

Though any undocumented immigrant who fills the requirements could, in theory, make themselves eligible for cancellation of removal by contacting immigration authorities, immigration lawyers regularly post dire warnings against attempting to do so.

But the lawmakers called on the administration to make that process less risky for law abiding longtime residents.

"Through rulemaking, the administration can address this issue by instituting a coordinated process that allows individuals to affirmatively request a review of their cases to make preliminary determinations about their eligibility for this relief," they wrote.


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