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U.S. is struggling to process work permits for thousands of immigrants in Florida and other states

Man standing in front of an Immigration sign, holding a manila envelope
Wilfredo Lee
People leave the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offices, Wednesday, July 26, 2023, in Miramar, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Some new arrivals from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela haven’t been able to work for months — even as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security says its working to speed up the work permit eligibility process.

An immigration program launched a year ago by the Biden administration allows 30,000 people a month to enter the United States from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela. Many have come to Florida thanks to diaspora communities across the state.

However, some new arrivals haven’t been able to work for months. Asylum seekers are required by law to wait 180 days before qualifying for a work permit. The process is causing stress and financial pressure for them and their sponsors.

Luis Miranda is the principal deputy assistant secretary for communications at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. He spoke about the parole program Friday with Tom Hudson on The Florida Roundup.

He said the DHS has been working to speed up the process for parolees to become eligible for a work permit.

“So, beginning Oct. 1, our Citizenship and Immigration Services started working to accelerate processing for employment authorization for people who’ve come in through CBP One, for example,” he said. CBP One is a mobile app where parolees must submit their information to request Advance Travel Authorization to the U.S.

In June, a report from the Citizenship and Immigration Services ombudsman argued the same paperwork used to apply for parole should be used for work permits. That has not been implemented.

Miranda said the department is working to reduce the median wait time from 90 days to 30 days for those who use CBP One to come to the U.S. and have received parole. For Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans who came over the course of the last year, that time was close to 30 to 45 days, according to Miranda.

There are also some people who don’t realize they can apply for a work permit if they’ve received parole.

“There are people across the southwest border, by requesting an appointment at a port of entry through the CBP One app, they may not realize that they are eligible for a work permit," Miranda said. "And so some of them may wait. They may be misinterpreting if they are not asylum seekers and thinking that they have to wait.”

Florida is one of 21 states that have sued the Biden administration in federal court, arguing the parole program is executive overreach. The states say immigration law requires the government to “grant parole only on a case-by-case basis for significant public benefit or urgent humanitarian reasons.”

Miranda said the parole process is case-by-case and each application is evaluated independently. He said the department is doing a “balancing act” by conducting the program and strengthening enforcement.

He also explained the need for Congress to address the current immigration system.

“What we’ve done is to manage a dynamic here where Congress has not reformed the immigration system for decades," Mirada said. We have a broken system, and it doesn’t properly calibrate our economic needs because we do have millions of jobs and plenty of employers throughout the country who would welcome more workers. We just don’t have the mechanisms in place to handle it at that volume.”

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