NEW YORK — Gov. Hochul, who had pursued the idea of issuing state-approved work papers to migrants, took the lofty plan off the table Monday, saying she would not have been able to protect New York employers from criminal exposure under federal laws.
“I’m constrained by the law,” Hochul said at a news conference in Midtown Manhattan, two months after she indicated her pursuit of a state work permitting concept. “Pursuing it has led us to the conclusion that I cannot protect employers under this scenario.”
Asylum seekers must wait for months to get their work papers approved: the standard 150-day gap between when migrants submit asylum papers and work permit applications is complicated by a backlogged work authorization system, creating extensive delays.
Changes to the 150-day gap are subject to the whims of Congress. Immigration reform efforts have long been deadlocked in Washington.
New York officials have spent the last year calling on the federal government to expedite asylum seekers’ work authorizations, finding limited success. At one point, Hochul warned the White House that she “may be having” to begin to distribute state work papers. (The White House said it would not encourage such an effort.)
But on Monday, Hochul said the plan was not tenable. She said the state had considered an approach in which it would have hired the migrants directly and then subcontracted them to employers.
“I cannot indemnify or protect the employers from any kind of federal prosecution for violating immigration laws,” Hochul said. “That’s the only barrier. And it’s a big one.”
No state has ever tried to supersede the federal government’s role as the dispenser of work papers, said Stephen Yale-Loehr, a professor of immigration law at Cornell University. He said the approach that Hochul described likely would have invited long-running litigation, and would not have helped the state in the short-term.
Since spring 2022, more than 139,000 asylum seekers have arrived in New York City, and about 66,000 remain in the city’s over-stretched shelter system, according to government tallies. The population of the shelter system has jumped from below 50,000 in July 2022 to about 120,000 this month.