Facing pressure in NY, Biden officials are helping migrants eligible for work

NEW YORK — The White House on Tuesday stepped up its efforts to beat back criticism that it isn’t doing enough to help New York with an influx of migrants, vowing to aid those eligible find work and planning to meet with business leaders.

Facing intense lobbying from fellow Democrats, Biden officials said they will be focused on the “critical mass” of migrants already able to obtain work permits, saying too few have actually applied.

“There’s a tremendous opportunity to help people right away,” a senior administration official told reporters on a conference call.

Gov. Kathy Hochul and New York City Mayor Eric Adams have demanded that the federal government expand work eligibility for migrants, using the rallying cry, “Let them work!”

Hochul, Adams and a growing coalition have been more forcefully urging that President Joe Biden and congressional leaders get some of the 60,000 migrants in the city’s care legally employed. There is persistent demand for workers in industries like health care and construction, union leaders in the coalition have stressed.

The governor and mayor have separately met with White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients about the crisis.

But federal officials are noting that there are migrants in New York and around the nation currently able to work, underscoring that any changes to law expanding eligibility are in Congress’ purview.

“The home run in this process would be comprehensive immigration reform,” the senior administration official said Tuesday.

Until then, “There’s a critical mass that we are confident are eligible to apply for work authorization immediately,” the official said, acknowledging there’s no specific number for New York City.

The official shared a telling statistic as one example: Of the 160,000 migrants who have arrived to the country using the CBP One app, a Customs and Border Protection resource, only about 20 percent have applied for work permission.

Biden administration officials also said they are deploying 50 federal workers to the city to educate migrants on available services. They said they’ve sent a million emails and text messages to migrants about the same.

A top White House aide is scheduled to meet Thursday with business leaders in New York to discuss employment opportunities considering the Biden administration’s expectation that many would soon be eligible for work.

And officials said the deal to use the federally owned Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn as large-scale housing for migrants is nearly done.

“President Biden, Vice President Harris and all of us share the frustration that elected officials, business leaders and New Yorkers all have about the process,” a senior administration official said. “We want to get people who are eligible to work to work as soon as possible.”

The White House call Tuesday served to highlight what the Biden administration is doing to help New York City as public resources buckle under the weight of caring for an influx of newcomers from the southern border.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas had previously noted where the Adams administration could improve its response.

Adams has estimated the services would cost $12 billion and recently said it could “destroy” the city. Over the weekend, City Hall ordered cuts from city agencies to help cover the growing tab.

The mayor reiterated the importance of getting migrants to work in a TV interview Tuesday.

“The precursor to sleep that allows us to experience the American Dream is the right to work,” Adams told WABC-TV, adding of work off the books: “We’re creating a black market of employment, low wages; women are being sexually exploited.”

State lawmakers are already considering legislation to try to expedite work permits, but it’s unclear whether any of them would be viable options. Hochul said Tuesday she is open to the idea.

Senate Deputy Majority Leader Mike Gianaris (D-Queens) said Tuesday the state should look for ways to help migrants find work.

“What we need to realize is we succeed when people want to come here from other countries and are anxious to get to work,” he said at an unrelated event in Albany, adding, “A lot of it is a federal responsibility, but whatever we can do to facilitate that, we should do.”

Nick Reisman and Jason Beeferman contributed to this report.

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