Historic US refugee crisis
The new migrant measure: let them work
By Roland Peters
September 21, 2023, 7:43 p.m
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More migrants than ever are being apprehended at the US southern border. The north of the country, such as New York City, is also feeling the consequences. It will “destroy” the city, says the mayor there. Now the US government is reacting.
Earlier this month, Eric Adams made an apocalyptic statement. “I see no end. This issue will destroy New York City.” The mayor sees his city as being well above its limits. Since spring 2022, 110,000 migrants have reached New York, a record number. Of these, around 37,000 are Venezuelan refugees, by far the largest group by nationality. Around 60,000 people are currently accommodated in emergency accommodation and are also being provided with food there. In addition to Venezuela, most of the others also come from Latin American countries.
New York, with its 8.5 million inhabitants, is not the only city recording record numbers. The United States is experiencing a migration movement like never before. Last year, nearly 2.4 million people were apprehended at the southern US border heading north. It currently looks like another record will be set in 2023. They come because of the economic consequences of the pandemic, climate change in Central America that is destroying livelihoods, and authoritarian regimes.
Migrants are constantly arriving and being accommodated in other cities, such as Denver, Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles. The right to accommodation also exists in the state of Massachusetts, but only for families. The number of migrants there has also increased significantly. There is little coordination between states at the US level as to what happens to migrants after they are apprehended.
Security at the southern border is like explosives in the election campaign. The Democrats are trying to get the situation under control while acting as the more humane political option for next year. Two aid groups called Adams’ comments “unproductive fear-mongering” that one would expect from politicians on the far right.
The Republicans are trying to take advantage of this and show an iron fist towards illegal immigrants. The authorities in the Republican-governed border state of Texas, for example, load migrants onto buses without consultation and send them to democratically governed places, including New York City. Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis had Venezuelan migrants flown to Democratic-governed Massachusetts in charter planes.
High budget deficit
In New York City, a so-called right to shelter has been in effect since around 1981 – anyone who wants to can take advantage of it. Because of the current refugee situation, the city governed by Democrats has opened more than 200 new accommodations, including in a cruise ship terminal, a hangar, a former psychiatric hospital and even on soccer fields. The Roosevelt Hotel is located in the middle of Manhattan and accommodates 850 families. Sometimes protests break out in front of it. There were also demonstrations against the opening of new accommodation facilities.
The city is paying for all of this. The future costs are estimated at $12 billion over three years. The necessary cuts would impact “every service in this city,” says Adams. Next year, New York City expects a total budget of $107 billion and a deficit of $13.8 billion. 6.1 billion of this is spent on migrant care. “Exceptionally high,” says an independent budget commission. The state must inject money and the federal government must also do more.
Adams has asked Washington for help several times. Now the US government has announced that it will provide temporary protection to almost half a million Venezuelans across the country. Anyone who entered the country before July 31st cannot be deported in the next 18 months and can apply for a work permit. It is not possible to send them back to their country in the foreseeable future. Since the end of the asylum ban in May, which was introduced due to the corona pandemic, US immigration authorities have deported 250,000 people.
The situation in Venezuela is extremely precarious. After disastrous socialist years, President Nicolás Maduro’s regime has somewhat loosened its grip on the Venezuelan economy, but poverty is pervasive and government opponents must fear political persecution. As a result, people continue to flee the country. According to the UN refugee agency, a quarter of the total population, around 7.7 million people, have left it so far. More than 6.5 million of them initially headed for other Latin American countries.
They don’t necessarily stay there. This year alone, the authorities in Panama expect 200,000 Venezuelans to make their way through the dangerous Tapón del Daríén between South and Central America towards the USA; out of a total of 400,000. The dense jungle was once a natural intercontinental barrier, dominated by guerrillas and drug smuggling. But since the end of the pandemic, more refugees than ever have taken the day-long route through the impassable terrain.
Related discussion in Germany
The demand for work permits came not only from New York City, but also from other mayors across the country whose cities are seeing ever-increasing numbers of refugees. In the best case scenario, the migrants should be able to look after themselves and reduce the costs for the city. After applying for asylum in the USA, refugees are not allowed to work for six months, and those without an application are not allowed to work legally anyway.
A related discussion is taking place in Germany. There is a shortage of hundreds of thousands of skilled workers, and at the same time there are asylum seekers or tolerated people who are professionally qualified but are not allowed to work or are only allowed to work under certain conditions. Several federal states therefore wanted asylum seekers to be able to withdraw their application or, after rejection, to be able to apply for a work permit instead.
In the United States, southern border security and the treatment of migrants is a political Achilles heel, especially for Democrats. According to surveys, the situation there is one of the most important election campaign issues for Americans. With the work permits, the Democrats are alleviating a small part of the problem in their own country. But not its causes: climate change and poverty in the region.