Attorney General Becerra Urges the Federal Government to Withdraw Its Proposal Obstructing Asylum-Seekers’ Ability to Access Work Permits

Friday, November 8, 2019
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SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal today led a coalition of 19 attorneys general in filing a comment letter opposing a Trump Administration proposal that would significantly hinder the ability of asylum-seekers to access work permits. Currently, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has 30 days to review asylum-seekers’ work permit applications following their submission. However, under the proposed rule, USCIS would completely eliminate that timeframe, forcing asylum-seekers to potentially wait indefinitely to find out if they will be authorized to work. The Trump Administration’s proposal would directly harm California’s communities and it ignores the vital economic contributions of immigrants throughout the country.

“The President’s latest un-American proposal is yet another direct attack on our nation’s founding principles,” said Attorney General Becerra. “This rule makes it harder for asylum-seekers to become self-sufficient and callously adds to the trauma of individuals who have already suffered through violence and persecution. The Trump Administration’s dizzying array of rules and processes that push hardworking immigrants to the fringes of our society is nothing short of a campaign of hatred and animosity. California and our partners across the country are standing up for the rights of immigrants and their families, and we won’t back down.”

“This rule is another example of the Administration’s disregard for the well-being of asylum-seekers, despite the United States’ rich history of protecting those who seek refuge in our country,” said Attorney General Grewal. “The federal government’s new proposal will leave asylum-seekers in limbo, unable to earn a living and support their families for an indefinite period of time. The rule not only hurts asylum-seekers, it’s also bad for states like New Jersey, because it marginalizes thousands of people who could otherwise be working, paying taxes, and further contributing to their communities. We’re proud to push back against the federal government’s actions.”

Delaying decisions on work permits harms asylum-seekers and their families by preventing them from finding work, potentially making it more difficult for them to adjust to life in the United States. Under the current system, asylum-seekers can apply for a work permit or Employment Authorization Document if their asylum application has been pending for 150 days. Once they file their application for employment authorization, USCIS must act on it within 30 days. Currently, 96 percent of work permit applications are handled within the regulatory timeframe. Nevertheless, USCIS is seeking to create further delays in the existing system. In fact, the proposed rule would result in a 21 percent drop in timely adjudications, which according to USCIS’ own estimates would result in up to nearly $775 million in lost compensation annually. Forcing asylum-seekers to wait even longer than they currently do before being able to legally work will negatively affect California’s economy. In 2018 alone, there were nearly 10,000 asylum applications in California immigration courts. Immigrant households contribute billions of dollars in state and local taxes every year and play an integral role in ensuring the success of California’s economy.

The proposed rule also threatens asylum-seekers and their families by making them more likely to seek work through exploitative employers in the underground economy. Moreover, asylum-seekers without a stable income source are less likely to be able to hire an attorney, which can disrupt their ability to successfully establish a legitimate asylum claim.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra has consistently fought to defend the rights of asylum-seekers in California and across the country. Last month, Attorney General Becerra co-led a coalition of attorneys general in opposition to a Trump Administration rule illegally limiting access to the asylum process. In May, the Attorney General led a multistate coalition in support of a lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration’s illegal efforts to prevent those who have not entered the country at a “port of entry” from applying for asylum in the United States. In February, Attorney General Becerra fought back against the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s practice of denying people access to the asylum process through misrepresentations, threats and intimidation, coercion, and verbal and physical abuse.

Joining Attorney General Becerra in filing the comment letter are the attorneys general of New Jersey, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

A copy of the comment letter is available here.

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