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VIDEO: As Republicans Push Shortsighted Border Bill, Pingree Champions Bipartisan Asylum Seeker Work Authorization Act

‘If Republicans were serious about getting asylum seekers out of shelters, then we would be debating my amendment to replace this misguided bill with my plan to get asylum seekers to work faster,’ Pingree said in remarks on the House floor

  • CP asylum remarks

Maine First District Congresswoman Chellie Pingree on Wednesday fought back against a punitive, shortsighted Republican bill, H.R. 5283, that would prohibit federal funding for shelters to house migrants on land controlled by Federal Land Management agencies. It would also void a lease between the Federal government and NYC to authorize the use of Floyd Bennett Field to house asylum seekers. Rather than support this bill that does nothing to address the immigration crisis or help asylum seekers, Pingree, Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Interior and Environment Subcommittee, which oversees the Department of the Interior and National Parks Service, instead called on her colleagues to support her bipartisan Asylum Seeker Work Authorization Act. Pingree’s bill would shorten the work authorization waiting period to just 30 days, allowing asylum seekers to get to work faster—easing the strain on local resources, addressing the nationwide worker shortage, and helping our new neighbors support themselves. 

Click here to watch Pingree’s full remarks. A complete transcript is copied below. 

Under a federal law passed in 1996, asylum seekers are required to wait at least half a year after filing an asylum petition before being able to obtain authorization to work. This law requires that, once a person filed an asylum claim, he or she must wait 150 days before being able to apply for a work authorization, which can be granted no earlier than 180 days after the filing of the asylum claim. Often, because of technical issues and delays in processing work authorization requests, this time period is much longer. 

In 2020, the Trump administration introduced a change that more than doubled the period of time asylum seekers must wait to apply for work authorization from 150 days to 365 days. In response, Pingree led a group of 50 members of Congress in voicing their strong opposition to Trump’s proposed rule in a letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. This rule was implemented in August 2020, but overturned in February 2022. 

Pingree’s Asylum Seeker Work Authorization Act is supported by national and state immigration groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce,  Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project (ILAP), Maine Business Immigration Coalition (MeBIC), and Maine Immigrant Rights Coalition (MIRC), Maine Chamber of Commerce, Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, HospitalityMaine, Associated General Contractors of Maine, Maine Center for Economic Policy, US Chamber of Commerce, National Retail Federation, National Immigration Forum, American Business Immigration Coalition (ABIC), National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP), National Council of Churches, Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP), Catholic Charities USA, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), National Alliance to End Homelessness, Uyghur Human Rights Project, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC, Women’s Refugee Commission, Human Rights First, Interfaith Welcome Coalition, American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), American Immigration Council (AIC), Border Butterflies Project, Church World Service, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Fellowship Southwest, Franciscan Network for Migrants—USA, HIAS, Home is Here NOLA, Hope Border Institute | Instituto Fronterizo Esperanza, Immigrant ARC, Immigration Equality, International Rescue Committee. Louisiana Organization of Refugees and Immigrants, National Partnership for New Americans, New Sanctuary Movement of Atlanta, Refugee Advocacy Lab, Refugee Congress, Refugee Council USA, Santa Cruz Welcoming Network, South Bronx Mutual Aid, Unitarian Universalists for Social Justice, Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), We Are All America, World Education Services.



M. Speaker, 

This bill does nothing to address the immigration crisis facing our nation. 

 It doesn’t help New York City and it certainly doesn’t help asylum seekers. 

I represent Portland, Maine, which, like New York, has welcomed a large influx of asylum seekers this year. 

Portland has also struggled to find sufficient housing for our new neighbors. 

If Republicans were serious about getting asylum seekers out of shelters, then we would be debating my amendment to replace this misguided bill with my plan to get asylum seekers to work faster. 

Currently, asylum seekers must wait at least six months before they are eligible to receive work authorization. 

The bipartisan Asylum Seeker Work Authorization Act would cut this waiting time to 30 days, allowing asylum seekers to get to work faster and no longer rely on the social safety net programs to survive.   

I have spoken to countless asylum seekers who are anxious to get to work and start supporting themselves and their families and contribute to their communities. We just need to get out of their way. 

I have also heard from employers across the country who would jump at the chance to hire asylum seekers. 

At present, there are 9.5 million job openings in the U.S. and only 6.5 million unemployed workers. That leaves a gap of 3 million job openings that businesses need asylum seekers to help fill. 

That’s why business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have endorsed my bill. 

My commonsense proposal would make no changes to the asylum process, it would simply reduce the amount of time asylum seekers are barred from filling critical job openings.

As President Reagan once said, immigrants are “one of the most important sources of America’s greatness.”

I urge my colleagues across the aisle to join me in supporting this commonsense, bipartisan solution. 


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