Mayor, governor ask federal government to streamline work authorizations for asylum seekers

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Chicago Construction News staff writer

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson and Gov. JB Pritzker are calling on the federal government to streamline the work authorization process when states demonstrate a public benefit and workforce shortages.

The pair wrote their concerns in a joint letter last week.

“Since the arrival of the first “Operation Texas” bus in August of 2022, the State of Illinois and the City of Chicago have spent and obligated over $250 million to help welcome and support the more than 13,000 asylum seekers who have traveled to Chicago from the US-Mexico border,” they said. “As we continue to receive new arrivals who often lack sponsors, shelter, and have no immediate legal pathways to work, we have come to understand that this is not a short-term crisis, but rather a long-term reality.”

To deal with the influx the state, city and feds “must pivot away from emergency responses that have already reached unsustainable levels towards policies that will enable individuals to live with dignity.

Instead, Pritzker and Johnson suggest building a system that can safely and capably receive the growing number of new arrivals who seek shelter in our city and state – with significant new federal financial support and immigration policy changes.

“Today, we write to you to respectfully request that the Department of Homeland Security leverage its authority to grant parole through the “Significant Public Benefit” designation to create a process for streamlined work authorization in which states could sponsor non-citizens to work in industries facing labor shortages,” the said in the letter.

“Through an expanded process, individuals could be sponsored by state governments to work in critical industries. This would unquestionably contribute “significant public benefit” to our nation’s labor shortages while providing non-citizens, like the thousands of asylum seekers we serve, a faster and more streamlined pathway to self-sufficiency.”

Asylum seekers face dangerous work conditions and exploitation due to the lack access to legal work and the protections.

The precarious legal status of non-citizen workers exposes them to a higher risk of mistreatment, especially when employers wield the power to determine the legal presence of an employee and a new program would focus on worker safety and worker choice.

“Our national immigration system continues to be stretched to receive and dutifully serve unprecedented numbers of individuals,” the governor and mayor wrote. “DHS has the authority to expand the “Significant Public Benefit” parole designation into a process that would allow states like Illinois to opt into a lawful, orderly, efficient parole process that would address critical workforce needs.

“On behalf of our new residents and the municipalities and communities that are struggling to welcome them, we urge you to use this authority to everyone’s shared benefit.”

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