Hochul doesn’t talk state work permits with Biden

But state Senate lawyers are currently analyzing new legislation that would supersede the federal government

Gov. Kathy Hochul and President Joe Biden

Gov. Kathy Hochul and President Joe Biden Kyle Mazza/Anadolu Agency

Despite raising the prospect of the state stepping in to issue temporary work permits for asylum seekers as they continue to await federal authorization, Gov. Kathy Hochul said that she did not bring up the idea during a brief meeting with President Joe Biden. But the state Senate is actively analyzing a bill that would do just that.

During an unrelated press conference in Manhattan on Wednesday, Hochul called a last-minute meeting with the president Tuesday evening “productive,” but offered no additional details. When asked whether she had broached the idea of superseding the federal government by issuing state-level work permits to migrants, the governor said she had not. “I did not dive into that because that is one option I’m pursuing, but I’m giving the federal government a little more time just to see whether or not they can take some steps that will alleviate the need for that,” Hochul told reporters.

The White House has not said directly that it would sue the state if it took the unprecedented step, but an official has said they “discourage” states from pursuing that course of action as immigration policy is strictly within federal purview. Hochul, New York City Mayor Eric Adams and other officials have repeatedly called on the federal government to expedite work authorization for tens of thousands of migrants who have arrived in the state over the past year, but the White House has yet to take any concrete measures to waive or shorten the mandatory waiting period.

A number of state lawmakers have called on New York to begin issuing work permits to asylum-seekers on its own, and Assembly Member Catalina Cruz and state Sen. Luis Sepúlveda have introduced new legislation that would give the state Department of Labor the authority to issue state-level work permits. 

The legislation, dubbed the New York Emergency Expedited Temporary Work Permit Act, already has a handful of cosponsors in the Assembly, and may have growing support in the upper chamber as well. State Senate Labor Committee Chair Jessica Ramos told City & State in a recent interview that New York would be “wise to lead” on the issue of state-level work permits. “In the face of federal inaction, the state could always step up,” Ramos said.

State Senate Deputy Majority Leader Mike Gianaris said lawyers for the Democratic conference are in the process of analyzing the legality of the bill in their chamber. “The federal government has been very clear that they think we cannot do that, so we’re just trying to figure out what we’re allowed to do,” Gianaris said. He said that if counsel determines the legislation would pass legal muster, then lawmakers “should absolutely” pass the bill or something similar. A source familiar with a recent meeting between Hochul, state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said that the prospect was discussed, but there were “no clear answers.” Gianaris also left the door open to the prospect of a special session to pass the bill before the next legislative session officially starts next year.