Biden administration responds to calls from Pritzker, other leaders, for help in migrant crisis
The Department of Homeland Security will speed up the processing of work authorizations for asylum seekers and extend Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelan migrants, actions that could help thousands of migrants who have arrived in Illinois in recent months.
Those moves were announced by the Biden administration Wednesday in response to pleas from leaders in Illinois, New York and other states for help in dealing with the ongoing migrant crisis that is taxing the resources cities like Chicago, where many migrants have been sent, sometimes without any notification.
At an Aug. 30 news conference, Gov. JB Pritzker, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson and state business leaders called on the administration to ease work restrictions for asylum seekers and other long-term undocumented workers. At that time, Chicago officials said the city had received more than 13,000 asylum seekers, the vast majority of whom had no official authorization to work in the United States.
Among other things, those officials requested DHS to allow states to sponsor asylum seekers for work authorizations. And while that was not one of the actions DHS announced Wednesday, Pritzker said he was happy with the actions the agency took to make it easier for those individuals to find employment.
“I’m very pleased that President Biden has listened to my concerns and those of other governors and political leaders and expanded Temporary Protected Status to migrants from Venezuela, thousands of whom have been sent to Illinois over the last year,” Pritzker said in a statement Wednesday.
“Despite traveling thousands of treacherous miles and then being used as political chess pieces by those who should have welcomed and helped them, they are eager to contribute to their new communities and get to work,” the governor added.
Pritzker was referring to actions by Republican Govs. Greg Abbott, of Texas, and Ron DeSantis, of Florida, who have been busing migrants from their states to so-called “sanctuary” cities such as Chicago and New York City.
Asylum seekers are people seeking temporary shelter and protection in the U.S. because they have suffered, or fear suffering, persecution in their home country due to factors such as race, religion, nationality, or political opinion.
To be eligible for asylum, people must be physically present in the U.S. and apply for that status, usually by filing an online application form known as an I-589, within one year of their arrival.
Federal law still requires asylum seekers to wait six months after filing their claim before they can apply for a work permit, officially known as an Employment Authorization Document, or EAD. But starting Oct. 1, DHS says it will dedicate additional staff to reducing the median processing time for those applications from 90 days to 30 days.
In addition, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will increase the maximum validity period for EADs to five years for certain noncitizens, including those admitted as refugees or granted asylum, those who have been granted withholding of removal, and applicants for asylum.
DHS will also extend Temporary Protected Status for 18 months to Venezuelan migrants who were living in the U.S. on or before July 31. That’s a temporary immigration status for people from certain countries experiencing issues that make it difficult or unsafe to return home.
According to the humanitarian aid group World Vision International, as of August 2023, more than 7.7 million people had fled Venezuela since 2014, due largely to political unrest brought on by years of hyperinflation, political corruption and economic problems. Most of those have fled to Caribbean and other Latin American nations.
Under the socialist government of former president Hugo Chavez, the country was almost entirely reliant on oil revenue to fund government operations. But that revenue dried up when oil prices plummeted in 2014, resulting in a collapse of the Venezuelan economy and dire shortages of food, medicine, and other necessities.
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of print and broadcast outlets statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.