Migration with dignity means people are able to care for themselves and their families amid their mobility. Yet current policies that prevent migrants from working can make this impossible for a family that has recently arrived in the US. Today, we delve into one such story—that of Miriam and Jonathan, a couple that has been living in the United States for over a year as they work through the asylum process. Their story displays the importance of allowing asylum seekers to receive work permits as a means of promoting migration with dignity.
The Struggle Without a Work Permit
Initial Restrictions and Sponsorship
“When we first arrived in the U.S., we were told we were not allowed to work and that our sponsors should take care of us,” Miriam recalls. As parents, Jonathan and Miriam found themselves in the challenging position of providing for their two children with no means to do so legally. Without work permits, they could only secure informal jobs, exposing them to exploitation and injustice.
Vulnerability to Exploitation in Informal Jobs
Miriam’s unfortunate experience serves as a poignant example. While working in a restaurant, she injured herself, cutting her finger. Her employer, aware that she wasn’t officially on the payroll, offered no support or compensation for her injury. Jonathan faced a similar ordeal. He worked in construction for three weeks, only to have his wages withheld by an unethical employer. The employer has since disappeared.
The workplace abuse that Miriam and Jonathan experienced illustrates how the absence of a work permit can make asylum seekers particularly susceptible to exploitation. This contradicts the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which says, “Access to employment and to professions must be open to all without unjust discrimination: men and women, healthy and disabled, natives and immigrants.”
Access to legal employment is not just about embodying our Catholic faith or economic stability; it’s also a matter of safety. A shocking 72% of the 14,500 to 17,500 persons trafficked in the United States each year are immigrants, often burdened with financial debt, making them even more vulnerable. Legal employment through work permits plays a pivotal role in mitigating this risk.
The Asylum Seeker Work Authorization Act (H.R. 1325)
Overview of H.R. 1325 and Its Purpose
In response to the injustice asylum seekers like Miriam and Jonathan face, legislators have introduced a critical new bill – known as H.R. 1325, the Asylum Seeker Work Authorization Act. Its primary aim is to honor asylum seekers’ dignity while strengthening the U.S. economy. It also supports American businesses. One key aspect of the bill is its commitment to expediting the process of obtaining work permits. It reduces barriers to maintaining work authorization, which means that US companies can legally employ people who stand ready to work while protecting them from exploitation.
Current Obstacles in Obtaining Work Permits
Under current regulations, asylum seekers must wait 150 days before applying for a work permit. That time is followed by an extra 30 days before receiving the employment authorization document. But in reality, the wait is generally much longer due to USCIS backlogs and processing delays. The process can stretch from eight months to a year or even longer. This delay deters access to meaningful work. It produces unjust discrimination based on immigration status. In Miriam and Jonathan’s case, the circumstances exposed them to exploitation and abuse.
Proposed Changes by H.R. 1325
H.R. 1325 aims to fix this situation. It reduces the waiting period to apply for a work permit to 30 days after submitting an asylum application. This change would impact asylum seekers like Miriam and Jonathan, quickly transitioning them towards self-sufficiency, protecting them from predatory employers, and offering them a pathway to provide for their family and meaningfully participate in the community hosting their family.
In the face of these pressing challenges, we must take action. We call upon the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to expand its capacity and tackle the severe backlog of work permits. Furthermore, we urge policymakers to support H.R. 1325, recognizing that it aligns with justice, dignity, and compassion for families in migration.
Miriam and Jonathan’s story is one of many highlighting the importance of work permits for people in need of protection who are going through the asylum process in the United States. We applaud their resilience in the midst of these obstacles and commit to raising our voices with theirs so that all families seeking safety can access dignified work.