After a perilous journey from his hometown of Venezuela to the United States two months ago, Gustavo Mendes believes he has survived so far in New York, where he found a job and a welcoming host family to establish a new life.
But he is one of the few who have found refuge in a city struggling to cope with the recent influx of asylum seekers from Latin America.
Since April, some 17,000 asylum seekers have flocked to New York, many of whom have been sent to temporary camps.
Tens of thousands of Venezuelan immigrants have been intercepted at the southern US border in the past year. In recent months, several Republican-led border states have begun moving asylum seekers north to Democratic-controlled cities, in a ploy ahead of the Nov. 8 midterm elections.
Weeks before the election in which Democrats and Republicans will compete for control of Congress, US President Joe Biden set the number of Venezuelan asylum seekers admitted at 24,000.
Expulsion of ground arrivals
The federal program allows entry to a limited number of Venezuelans through US airports. But the Biden administration will deport anyone who tries to enter through the country’s border, reimplementing the health emergency policy enacted during the era of former President Donald Trump that denied Venezuelans the right to apply for asylum under the pretext of the need to combat. the spread of the “Covid-19” outbreak.
Mendes, 40, cannot legally work in New York, but he was able to find a source of income a week after arriving at a restaurant in Queens that also sells refreshments from a food truck at sporting events.
“I wanted to work in cooking or on television, that’s why I came here,” the chef and television repairman told AFP.
Mendes currently earns between $800 and $1,200 a week, far more than the $600 salary he earned in Venezuela, where his two teenage sons still live.
But Mendes is one of the relatively lucky asylum seekers, because finding a job opportunity to build a better life is what those fleeing danger or persecution in their country most seek.
But as of now, asylum seekers must wait 150 days after submitting their initial application before they can apply for a work permit.
“Since mid-August, we have seen a significant increase in the number of asylum seekers,” said Jay Alfaro, Director of Social Services and Partnerships at the Church of the Holy Apostles in Manhattan.
He points out that the main question asylum seekers ask is “Do you know where we can find work?”
This church provides food, legal services, housing counseling and medical assistance, and operates one of the largest programs of its kind in the country.
The Venezuelan Nisari Angolo (29), her husband and three-year-old daughter came to the church to look for a meal.
After a 50-day journey, the family began sleeping in a hotel set up by the New York mayor’s office.
procrastinate and procrastinate
New York is the only American city required by law to offer refuge to anyone seeking asylum there.
For registered newcomers, the city also offers access to medical care, English language lessons, skills training, as well as schooling for children.
But many asylum seekers say finding legal work is a slow process. The Department of Immigration Services, for example, will not receive Mendes until 2024.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who has been outspoken about his ambitions to run for president in 2024, urged the federal government to pass a law allowing asylum seekers to look for work “immediately rather than after six months.”
New York authorities have set aside hotel rooms for asylum seekers, in addition to the city’s shelters originally intended to house homeless New Yorkers.
Last week, New York also began filling a giant tent erected on Randall’s Island in the East River, which can house 500 single men. There are also discussions to set up a vessel to accommodate the new arrivals.
So far, there are no restrictions on the stay of those in temporary shelters.
Alvaro talks about the high cost of rent in the city, which also suffers from a housing shortage, in explaining the challenges the newcomers face.
According to a new study recently published by CNBC, a worker earning the minimum wage ($15 an hour) would have to work 111 hours a week to pay the rent for a one-bedroom apartment.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams has called the current situation “unsustainable” as the city will spend between $500 million and $1 billion to temporarily house the new arrivals, according to accountant Brad Lander.
Adams believes that all American cities should share the burden, saying that New York “has never entered into any agreement to take on the task of supporting thousands of asylum seekers”.
■ Asylum seekers must wait 150 days after submitting their initial application before they can apply for a work permit.
■ The authorities in New York have allocated hotel rooms to asylum seekers, in addition to the city shelters originally intended to house the city’s homeless.
For registered newcomers, the city offers access to medical care, English language lessons and skills training, as well as schooling for children.