The Gothamist published an article on the push to ban street vendors from the magisterial Brooklyn Bridge. I am 100% in support of banning street vendors from the Bridge, but I will focus on another point in the report. See the following quote:

But vendors said there are not many legal spots where they can move to. Street vending has become more common as asylum seekers try to make ends meet without work permits.

Setting aside the reporter’s insistence on using asylum seeker as a blanket term for aliens who may or may not have actually applied for asylum, much less have a colorable asylum case, I submit for the record that hawking wares on the street is not a legal solution to not having employment authorization. An alien who is not authorized to engage in employment is not authorized to engage in self-employment (many aliens who are explicitly here on work visas are not eligible to engage in self-employment, see e.g., H-1B specialty occupation workers and O-1 aliens of extraordinary ability). The article quotes a street vendor advocate in the very next paragraph as describing street vendors as small businesses. An alien who lacks employment authorization cannot legally work as a street vendor regardless of his or her desire to make ends meet.

2 thoughts on “Alien Street Vendors and Unauthorized Employment

  1. My clarifications in reply to

    1. I disagree with the use of the description “undocumented” as a threshold matter. Many foreign nationals who are unlawfully present in the United States are very well documented. I’ve dealt with cases involving people who have had out-standing removal orders for two decades.

    2. A foreign national who is in the United States and has exhausted all legal defenses against removal should be removed from the United States. Countries that habitually refuse to accept the return of their nationals such as China should be subject to immigration sanctions provided for by the Immigration and Nationality Act. I do not know what “Trump style” means here. Former President Obama’s DHS removed more aliens in his first term than did Trump’s — rhetoric aside (how one weighs this fact for each of the former presidents is, to be sure, a matter of interpretation).

    3. I would prefer that the government enforce the immigration laws that exist before searching for new general solutions. There are many legal immigration pathways and avenues for relief available. Foreign nationals are allowed to apply for asylum within one year of arrival or can present a claim when they are inspected as applications for admission at the border. Applying for asylum is free. If the application is un-adjudicated for more than 180 days, an asylum applicant can receive work authorization pursuant to an application. Asylum requires a well-founded fear of persecution in the applicant’s country of nationality or last habitual residence on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. By NYC’s own admission, many of the generically described “asylum seekers” have not applied for asylum. For whatever it is worth, I worked on two asylum cases in the last few weeks (as a writer/researcher) that I thought were very well-documented and potentially, if not likely, meritorious. Provided those individuals are found credible in their removal hearings, I think they will likely (and deservedly) be granted relief.

    4. However, the first three points aside, my post was about employment specifically. I support regulating the employment of foreign nationals in the United States, which the law provides for. It is entirely possible that some recent arrival foreign national street vendors are employment authorized under Federal immigration law — either on account of asylum applications or a separate basis (e.g., special parole program or Temporary Protected Status). An alien who is not authorized to engage in employment should not be permitted to engage in employment — whether he or she arrived legally on a B-2 tourist visa or wandered across the border on or after January 20, 2021. I would strongly advise people on visas in the United States to abide by the terms of their immigration status because there is no guarantee that DHS will look the other way in one case just because it looks the other way in other cases (e.g., I worked on cases where unauthorized employment ended poorly for people who entered legally on tourist and student visas).

  2. I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge for the first time since New York City evicted all of the vendors and panhandlers a few weeks ago. I fully supported clearing the Bridge for pedestrians just like I previously supported removing the bike lane from the walkway. However, I was skeptical that New York City would follow through. I can happily report that I saw no vendors or stands on my two walks across the Brooklyn Bridge on the afternoon of February 6, 2024. Despite having a decent number of pedestrians, both walks were easy and painless (save for the one guy twirling around with his “selfie stick”). Moreover, I only saw one illegal bike on the Bridge. There were a few cops (first time I have seen cops on the Bridge since early 2020), so that may also be helping.

    While I did not take pictures of the walkway, you can see the Manhattan skyline and Freedom Tower from what is close to the Manhattan off-ramp at about 1:40 PM.

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