WASHINGTON (AP) — The mayors of Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles and New York are pressing to meet with President Joe Biden about getting federal help in managing the surge of migrants they say are arriving in their cities with little to no coordination, support or resources from his administration.
The Democratic leaders say in a letter obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday that while they appreciate Biden’s efforts so far, much more needs to be done to ease the burden on their cities.
Migrants are sleeping in police station foyers in Chicago. In New York, a cruise ship terminal was turned into a shelter. In Denver, the number of migrants arriving has increased tenfold and available space to shelter them has withered. With fewer available work authorizations, these migrants cannot find work that would allow them to get into proper housing.
Denver Mayor Mike Johnston, who is leading the coalition, said nearly every conversation he has had with arriving migrants is the same: Can he help them find a job, they ask.
“The crisis is we have folks here who desperately want to work. And we have employers here who desperately want to hire them. And we have a federal government that’s standing in the way of employers who want to hire employees who want to work,” Johnston said.
The situation at the U.S.-Mexico border has vexed the Democratic president, who is seeking reelection in 2024. He is increasingly under fire from members of his own party who are managing the growing number of migrants in their cities. Republicans claim Biden is soft on border security and is allowing too many people to enter the United States.
He has responded by toughening rules at the border meant to curb illegal crossings and by offering work authorizations and other incentives to those who come to the U.S. legally — applying ahead of time and arriving by plane.
The reason for the ballooning number of migrants in these cities is complicated, but economic and climate-related hardships in their home countries are key drivers. There are increasing numbers of families arriving and asking for asylum.
Some conservative-leaning states have sent migrants to so-called sanctuary cities such as New York or Chicago, where laws are more favorable to noncitizens. But that alone does not explain why the cities are facing such increases.
In years past, when migrants arrived, they would be released and picked up by nonprofit groups before usually going to stay with a relative already in the U.S. But the nationalities of the people arriving have changed, and many no longer have any place to go.
Winning asylum is a long and difficult process through a badly clogged immigration court system. In some cases, migrants may wait up to a decade for a court date. They are released into the U.S. to wait. Some are eligible to work, but such authorizations are badly delayed. There are concerns, too, that allowing too much work authorization will encourage more people to make the dangerous journey to the U.S. on foot. So thousands are in limbo, unable to work, sleeping in shelters or government facilities.
Biden has requested $1.4 billion from Congress to help state and local governments provide shelter and services for migrants, after earlier pleas from Democratic mayors and governors.
Johnston and the other mayors say in their letter that more is needed, and they are asking for $5 billion.
“While we are greatly appreciative of the additional federal funding proposed, our city budgets and local taxpayers continue to bear the brunt of this ongoing federal crisis,” the letter says. “Cities have historically absorbed and integrated new migrants with success.”
Denver is spending $2 million a week on sheltering migrants. New York has surpassed a total of $1.7 billion and Chicago has spent $320 million, according to the letter.
“Our cities need additional resources that far exceed the amount proposed in order to properly care for the asylum seekers entering our communities,” the mayors’ letter says. “Relying on municipal budgets is not sustainable and has forced us to cut essential city services.”
The mayors also want an accelerated work authorization approval process so migrants can find work.
The cities are full of people who have applied, but there are delays of six months or more. The mayors also are pushing to expand authorizations so anyone released into the U.S. would become eligible to find work while they wait for their immigration cases to play out.
Lastly, they are asking for the administration to create a regional migrate coordinator who would work with the federal government, nonprofits and state and local officials. The aim is to better coordinate and place migrants in areas where there is capacity for them.
The letter was signed by Johnston and the mayors of the country’s four largest cities: Eric Adams of New York, Karen Bass of Los Angeles, Brandon Johnson of Chicago and Sylvester Turner of Houston.
It’s unclear whether Congress, including the Republican-controlled House, will pass any of the funding Biden has requested, let alone a increase for local support.
“We think there is a real common sense path here that and that’s why we thought it was important,” Johnston said.