In New York, immigrants in a city-run shelter complain that relatives who moved in before them refuse to offer them a bed.
In South Florida, some immigrants complain that people who arrived later get work permits that are out of their reach.
Across the country, mayors, governors and others have strongly advocated for newly arrived immigrants seeking shelter and work permits. Their efforts and existing laws have exposed tensions among immigrants who have been in the country for years, even decades, and do not have the same benefits, particularly work permits.
And some newcomers feel that established immigrants have turned their backs on them.
Thousands of immigrants marched in Washington this month to demand that President Joe Biden extend work authorization to long-time residents as well. The signs read: “Work permits for all!” and “I’ve been waiting 34 years for a permit.”
Despite a brief lull when new asylum restrictions took effect in May, arrests for illegal border crossings from Mexico surpassed 2 million for the second year in a row in the government’s budget year that ended Sept. 30. Additionally, hundreds of thousands of immigrants have been legally admitted to the country over the past year under new policies aimed at discouraging illegal crossings.
“The rising wave of arrivals makes our immigration advocacy more challenging. Their arrival has created some tensions, some questions,” said U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García, a Chicago Democrat whose majority-Latino district includes a large immigrant population. People have been “waiting for decades for the opportunity to obtain a green card to become legal and have a path to citizenship.”
Asylum seekers must wait six months to obtain work authorization. Processing takes no more than a month and a half for 80% of applicants, according to US Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Those crossing the border through the Biden administration’s new legal pathways do not have any required waiting period. Under a temporary legal status known as parole, 270,000 people from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela arrived as of October by applying online with a financial sponsor. Another 324,000 obtained appointments to enter through a land crossing with Mexico by using a mobile application called CBP One.
The administration said in September it would work to reduce wait times for work permits to 30 days for those using the new tracks. By the end of September, it had sent 1.4 million emails and text messages reminding who was eligible to work.
José Guerrero, who worked in construction after arriving 27 years ago from Mexico, acknowledged that many newcomers felt forced to flee their countries. He says he wants the same treatment.
“All these immigrants come and give them everything so easily, and nothing to us who have been working and paying taxes for years,” said Guerrero, now a gardener in Homestead, Florida, about 39 miles (63 kilometers) south of Miami. “They give these people everything they can get their hands on.”
The White House is asking Congress for $1.4 billion for food, shelter and other services for newcomers. The mayors of New York, Denver, Chicago, Los Angeles and Houston wrote to President Joe Biden last month to request $5 billion, noting that the influx has strained budgets and cut essential services.
The mayors also support temporary status (and work permits) for people who have been in the United States longer but have focused on newcomers.
“All newcomers coming to our cities are looking for the opportunity to work, and every day we receive calls from business leaders who have open positions and want to hire these newcomers,” the mayors wrote. “We can successfully welcome and integrate these newcomers and help them pursue the American dream if they have the opportunity to work.”
It is indisputable that many newcomers find themselves in dire circumstances, including some who hoped to join family and friends but found their calls blocked and messages unreturned.
Ángel Hernández, a Venezuelan who walked through Panama’s famous Darien rainforest, where he witnessed dead bodies, was deeply disappointed when he arrived in New York. The construction worker said that he, his aunt, his uncle and his two children left Colombia after more than three years because the work ran out.
Hernandez, 20, planned to settle with his uncle’s brother, who settled in the United States about a year earlier and lives in a house with a stable job. His job search has been unsuccessful.
“Everyone is on their own,” he said outside the Roosevelt Hotel, a property in midtown Manhattan that was closed until the city opened it to immigrants in May.
The influx has put many immigrant services groups in a financial bind.
For decades, the Latino Treatment Center has provided help with drug abuse to many immigrants living in Chicago without legal status. He began helping new arrivals sleeping at the police station across the street, arranging a shower in the office for immigrants to use a few days a week and offering advice.
“It’s such a unique situation that we were not prepared for,” said Adriana Trino, the group’s executive director. “This has been a completely different stage, the needs are very different.”
Many organizations deny the friction and say they have been able to make ends meet.
“We’re trying to keep a balance between doing both: people who have been here for years and people who are arriving, and so far we’ve been able to serve everyone,” said Diego Torres of the Latin American Coalition, which helps immigrants in Charlotte, North Carolina.
In Atlanta, the Latin American Association says it has spent $50,000 this year on temporary housing and other aid for newcomers. Santiago Márquez, executive director of the organization, has not felt resentment.
“Our core customers, most of them immigrants, understand the difficult situation,” he said. “They’ve been through it. They understand.”
Still, it’s easy to find immigrants with deep roots in the United States who chafe at unequal treatment.
A 45-year-old Mexican woman who came to the United States 25 years ago and has three children born in the United States said it was unfair that new arrivals got work permits before her. She makes $150 a week picking sweet potatoes in Homestead.
“For a humanitarian reason they are giving opportunities to those who are arriving, and what is the humanity with us?” said the woman, who asked to be identified only by her last name, Hernández, because she fears being deported.
The rally in Washington reflected an effort by advocates to push for work permits for everyone, regardless of when they arrived.
“It is a system that has tested our city and, at this moment, generates conflicts between neighbors.” Lawrence Benito, head of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, at a rally in Chicago last month.
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