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Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul
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November 8, 2019

ATTORNEY GENERAL URGES FEDERAL GOVERNMENT TO WITHDRAW PROPOSAL DELAYING ASYLUM-SEEKERS’ ACCESS TO WORK PERMITS

Chicago — Attorney General Kwame Raoul, as part of a coalition of 19 attorneys general, today filed a comment letter opposing a proposal by the federal government that would significantly hinder the ability of asylum-seekers to work legally in the United States.

Currently, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has 30 days to review and decide asylum-seekers’ work permit applications following their submission. However, under the proposed rule, USCIS would eliminate that timeframe, forcing asylum-seekers to potentially wait indefinitely to find out if they will be authorized to work. The proposal would directly harm Illinois communities, and it ignores the vital economic contributions of immigrants in Illinois and throughout the country.

“The federal government’s efforts to eliminate the 30-day review period are unjust and should not be implemented,” Raoul said. “This proposal will harm asylum-seekers who seek to support their families by forcing them to find alternative and exploitative ways to live and work.”

Delaying decisions on work permits harms asylum-seekers and their families by preventing them from working legally, making it more difficult for them to adjust to life in the United States. Under the current system, asylum-seekers can apply for a work permit or Employment Authorization Document if their asylum application has been pending for 150 days. Once they file their application for employment authorization, USCIS must act on it within 30 days.

Currently, 96 percent of work permit applications are handled within the regulatory timeframe. Nevertheless, USCIS is seeking to create further delays in the existing system. In fact, the proposed rule would result in a 21 percent drop in timely adjudications, which according to USCIS’ own estimates would result in up to nearly $775 million in lost compensation annually. Forcing asylum-seekers to wait even longer before being able to legally work will negatively affect Illinois’ economy. Immigrant households, including those with asylum-seekers, contribute billions of dollars in state and local taxes every year and play an integral role in ensuring the success of the state’s economy.

The proposed rule also threatens asylum-seekers and their families by making them more likely to seek work through exploitative employers in the underground economy. Moreover, asylum-seekers without a stable income source are less likely to be able to hire an attorney, which can disrupt their ability to successfully establish a legitimate asylum claim.

Joining Raoul in filing the comment letter are the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

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