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New York’s Leadership Wants Washington off Its Back

I plan to sponsor some Russian spies to write an espionage column for the Spritzler Report.

New York’s Leadership Wants Washington off Its Back

The governor and mayor are dealing with the migrant crisis by trying to hand out work permits.

By Jason L. Riley, WSJ

Sept. 19, 2023 5:29 pm ET

Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s ill-fated push in 2007 to issue driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants had a certain logic to it. If we’re not going to round up and deport an estimated 12 million undocumented people, he reasoned, what was the point of letting them remain in the country but not drive legally?

Mr. Spitzer argued that some would drive regardless, resulting in more unlicensed and uninsured people behind the wheel. Yes, his plan would reward law-breaking and run the risk of encouraging more of it. But public policy always involves trade-offs, and wasn’t road safety the higher priority?

Whatever Mr. Spitzer was selling, voters weren’t buying it. Public outcry ensued, his political opponents pounced, and within a few weeks the plan was ditched.

Today, the Empire State finds itself in the middle of another immigrant uproar. More than 110,000 foreign nationals have arrived in New York City since the spring of 2022 after entering the country illegally and requesting asylum. The city has set up more than 200 emergency sites to house and feed them. Roughly 19,000 migrant children were enrolled in public schools this year. Mayor Eric Adams, a Democrat, says the shelter system is operating at capacity, yet migrants continue to arrive at a clip of about 10,000 per month. City officials estimate that caring for these newcomers will cost taxpayers some $12 billion over the next three years.

The migrants by and large want to work, but work permits for foreigners fall under the purview of the federal government. Current law says asylum seekers must wait at least 180 days before they can land a job. Gov. Kathy Hochul, also a Democrat, has been lobbying Washington for months to shorten the wait time, reasoning that the sooner migrants can find a job, the sooner they will be self-sufficient. Tired of being ignored, Ms. Hochul is now threatening to move forward with a state-level work-permit program. Some agree it’s the logical next step for a state that is running out of options. Others are giving her the Spitzer treatment.

The governor’s detractors maintain that allowing illegal immigrants to work will lure more of them to New York. That’s possible, but what is the alternative? Like Mr. Spitzer, Ms. Hochul and other state and local officials must operate within certain political constraints. New York and other states with inane sanctuary policies in place deserve all the criticism they’re getting, but controlling the Mexican border isn’t a state responsibility. And if the feds aren’t going to deport undocumented immigrants, are we better or worse off letting them stay but not letting them fill jobs in a labor market that is starved for workers?

Ms. Hochul told reporters last week that her scheme would be “unprecedented” and acknowledged “the federal government believes that we need to have their authority to move forward with state work permits.” According to the New York Times, a bill that has already been introduced in the Democrat-controlled state Legislature would allow for the issuing of permits 45 days after a person applies. The White House hasn’t indicated publicly what it will do in response if New York decides to go its own way.

The governor and mayor have the right idea in wanting migrants off the government dole as soon as possible. As former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg wrote in an op-ed last week, current law “amounts to state-enforced poverty and vagrancy—against people who have shown extraordinary fortitude and grit in journeying here, often at great risk.” The challenge is how to issue work permits without providing an added incentive for more people to come illegally.

For starters, we could stop pretending that most of the people entering the U.S. through Mexico are fleeing persecution in their home countries. The reality is that almost all of them are traditional economic migrants in search of jobs. They are exploiting our asylum laws with the implicit consent of the Biden administration, which effectively has ordered Border Patrol officers to stand down, hand out asylum applications, and release millions of unvetted foreign nationals into the nation’s interior.

Second, if states and cities want to use work permits to address local crises, the better course would be to issue them to would-be migrants in their home countries, not after they arrive in the U.S. This would allow more people to come lawfully and reduce pressure on the southern border. The idea isn’t new, and it’s one that has enjoyed bipartisan backing in the past.

Two Republicans—Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado—previously have introduced legislation that would create a state-run guest-worker program. Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign for president likewise called for a program that allowed city and county officials “to petition for additional immigrant visas to support the region’s economic development strategy.” The federal government’s border bungling now spans four presidencies and counting. States deserve some autonomy.


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