Digging a Deeper Hole: Big City Mayors Continue to Insist on Faster Work Authorization for Migrants
FAIR Take | December 2023
Like a lot of big city mayors, Denver’s Mike Johnston campaigned on a pledge to address his city’s homelessness crisis. The newly elected mayor came to office with the goal of moving 1,000 of Denver’s homeless off city sidewalks and parks and into tiny homes villages or other supervised facilities – the first step in a plan to move them into permanent homes.
Mayor Johnston’s plan to address what he declared “a state of emergency” on his first day in office was quickly overtaken by what he describes as “a parallel crisis.” That parallel crisis is the influx of migrants who are pouring into this self-declared sanctuary city– 30,000 in just the last year – many of whom joined the city’s existing homeless population on the cold streets of Denver.
Denver’s predicament is no different than dozens of other cities grappling with huge homeless populations while, at the same time, burnishing their credentials as places that welcome illegal aliens. And much like his colleagues in other beleaguered cities, Mayor Johnston sees expedited work authorization for “asylum-seekers” as the answer to the problem. In late October, he joined with the mayors of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Houston in signing a letter addressed to President Biden asking the administration to expedite and increase the issuance of work authorization for migrants (along with the pro forma request for more federal money).
Under federal law, there is a 150-day waiting period before asylum-seekers can apply for work authorization and they cannot receive their Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) until 180 days after they have filed an asylum application. (The lack of EADs has not deterred many asylum-seekers, who are really economic migrants, from working. A FAIR investigative team discovered many working without authorization during a recent trip to New York.)
Nevertheless, the logic of these mayors seems to be that if more migrants are granted work authorization more quickly, they will become self-sufficient. “If people get jobs they can figure out the rest” for themselves, Mayor Johnston says, ignoring some of the fundamental reasons why he had an existing homelessness problem when he assumed office.
The biggest factors in the homelessness crisis in Denver and other big cities are: Mental illness and substance abuse; a lack of affordable housing; and a dearth of jobs that pay enough to be able to cover the cost of skyrocketing rents. Fast-tracking EADs for migrants would actually exacerbate the latter two factors. The pre-existing homeless who are capable of holding a job would find it harder to land one, not to mention that the law of supply-and-demand would likely act as a damper on wages in high cost of living cities. On the flip side, the same law of supply-and-demand would drive up rents that are already beyond the reach of those living on the streets.
Waiving the 180-day waiting period to receive EADs would also exacerbate the already white-hot illegal immigration crisis that is overwhelming Denver and countless other cities. The waiting period was put in place to discourage economic migrants, i.e. people looking for jobs, from abusing the asylum process. With encounters of illegal aliens –nearly all of whom are economic migrants – soaring to 12,000 in a single day earlier this month, handing them all EADs upon arrival would provide more incentives for people to show up and enter fraudulent asylum claims.
More and faster work permits would inevitably result in more and faster illegal immigration. More illegal immigration means more migrants turning up in sanctuary cities like Denver that flash big bright welcome signs. More illegal migrants arriving in cities that already lack sufficient affordable housing means that their homeless problems will grow worse, not better.
There is an old adage that says, when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. Mayor Johnston and his colleagues in other sanctuary cities need to put down their shovels.