NEW YORK — The White House stepped up its efforts Tuesday to fend off criticism that it is not doing enough to help New York with an influx of migrants, vowing to help those who qualify find work and planning to meet with business leaders .
Facing intense pressure from Democratic colleagues, Biden officials have said they will focus on the “critical mass” of migrants already able to obtain work permits, saying too few have actually applied.
“There is a tremendous opportunity to help people immediately,” a senior administration official told reporters on a conference call.
Gov. Kathy Hochul and New York Mayor Eric Adams have called on the federal government to expand work eligibility for migrants, using the rallying cry: “Let them work!”
Hochul, Adams and a growing coalition have urged more forcefully that President Joe Biden and congressional leaders give legal employment to some of the 60,000 migrants in the city’s care. There is persistent demand for workers in sectors such as healthcare and construction, coalition union leaders stressed.
The governor and mayor met separately with White House chief of staff Jeff Zients about the crisis.
But federal officials are noting that there are migrants in New York and across the nation currently able to work, stressing that any changes to the law that expand eligibility are up to Congress.
“The primary goal of this process would be comprehensive immigration reform,” the senior administration official said Tuesday.
Until then, “There is a critical mass that we are confident is eligible to immediately apply for work authorization,” the official said, acknowledging that there is no specific number for New York City.
The official shared a telling statistic as an example: Of the 160,000 migrants who arrived in the country using the CBP One app, a Customs and Border Protection resource, only about 20 percent required a work permit.
Biden administration officials also said they are sending 50 federal workers to the city to educate migrants about available services. They said they sent a million emails and text messages to migrants in much the same way.
A top White House aide is scheduled to meet with business leaders in New York on Thursday to discuss job opportunities amid the Biden administration’s expectation that many will soon be eligible to work.
And officials said the deal to use the federally owned Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn as large-scale migrant housing is nearly done.
“President Biden, Vice President Harris and all of us share the frustration that elected officials, business leaders and New Yorkers feel about the process,” a senior administration official said. “We want to get people eligible to work working as soon as possible.”
The White House’s call Tuesday served to highlight what the Biden administration is doing to help New York City as public resources buckle under the weight of caring for the influx of new arrivals from the southern border.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas previously highlighted where the Adams administration could improve its response.
Adams estimated the services would cost $12 billion and recently said they could “destroy” the city. Over the weekend, City Hall ordered cuts to city agencies to help cover the growing bill.
The mayor reiterated the importance of getting migrants to work in a television interview on Tuesday.
“The sleep precursor that allows us to experience the American dream is the right to work,” Adams told WABC-TV, adding of moonlighting: “We’re creating a black market of employment, low wages; women are sexually exploited.”
State lawmakers are already considering legislation to try to speed up work permits, but it’s unclear whether any of that would be a viable option. Hochul said Tuesday she is open to the idea.
Deputy Senate Majority Leader Mike Gianaris (D-Queens) said Tuesday that the state should look for ways to help migrants find jobs.
“What we need to realize is that we succeed when people want to come here from other countries and are eager to get to work,” he said at an unrelated event in Albany, adding: “A lot of this is a federal responsibility, but whatever happens we can do to facilitate it, we should do it.”
Nick Reisman and Jason Beeferman contributed to this report.