Biden immigration overhaul would open a door to citizenship

By: - January 22, 2021 5:18 am
daca dreamers supreme court

Hundreds of protesters outside the U.S. Supreme Court building Nov. 12, 2019. (Photo: Robin Bravender)

The immigration reform bill President Joe Biden is sending to Congress would lay out a path for nearly 11 million undocumented people to obtain citizenship within eight years.

Immigration has been one of the toughest issues for Congress to tackle, and the legislation’s fate is unclear in a House in which Democrats wield narrower control than in the past and a 50-50 Senate where Vice President Kamala Harris can break a tie vote for Democrats.

But Biden has pledged to act swiftly on immigration, and his proposed legislation is accompanied by executive actions including halting construction on the border wall, ending the Trump administration ban on U.S. entry for people from  Muslim-majority nations and pausing some deportations.

The Biden administration released a summary of its bill, the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, which would also allow applicants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival to apply for permanent residency.

DACA is an Obama administration initiative for individuals brought into the country illegally as children.

The Biden proposal is a stark difference from the Trump administration, which spent four years assaulting any form of immigration in the U.S., from trying to eliminate the DACA program to separating families at the border. The last time the U.S. passed sweeping immigration reform was 1986.

The Nevada Immigrant Coalition, in a statement, said it “looks towards this new administration with a renewed sense of hope and will work to ensure the promises made on the campaign trail become a reality.”

But in a nod to prior failed attempts to reform immigration policy, the statement said the coalition “will hold this administration accountable for promises it has made and any inaction, and we will continue to demand further, necessary progress. We will not settle for a mere return to pre-2016 immigration policy.”

The coalition statement also said that “Over the last four years, we have organized to keep our families together and get out the vote that made today’s transition of power possible.”

While Biden won the Latino vote in Nevada, exit polling indicated Trump’s Latino support in Nevada was larger in 2020 than in 2016.

If passed by Congress, the bill would allow undocumented individuals such as DACA recipients, Temporary Protective Status holders and “immigrant farmworkers who meet specific requirements” to apply for temporary legal status. After five years, those individuals could apply for green cards if they pass background checks and show they pay taxes.

After three more years, those green card holders could apply to become citizens if they again pass background checks and pass the citizenship test.

Nevada is home to roughly 13,000 DACA recipients, according to estimates based on the American Community Survey. An estimated 6,300 people from El Salvador, Honduras and Haiti under the TPS program live in Nevada, according to a report by the Center for American Progress.

While the bill would likely pass the House, it’s unclear if Democrats have enough votes in the Senate.

The last time Democrats tried to pass a bipartisan immigration bill that would have laid out a path to citizenship within 13 years for undocumented people was in 2013. It passed the Senate, 68-32, but was never brought to the House floor under Republican control.

Even without Congress, the Biden administration Department of Homeland Security is moving forward with pausing removal of noncitizens who are under deportation orders “to ensure we have a fair and effective immigration enforcement system focused on protecting national security, border security, and public safety,” the agency said in a memo Wednesday.

“The pause will allow DHS to ensure that its resources are dedicated to responding to the most pressing challenges that the United States faces, including immediate operational challenges at the southwest border in the midst of the most serious global public health crisis in a century,” the agency said.

Biden’s bill reforms family-based immigration by allowing “immigrants with approved family-sponsorship petitions to join family in the United States on a temporary basis while they wait for green cards to become available.” It also clears backlogs, eliminates wait times and increases the number of per-country visa caps.

The bill would also improve immigration courts by expanding programs to manage family cases, which would reduce backlogs in court and also expand training for judges to handle those cases.

A large section of the proposal also aims to deal with the causes of mass migration.

The bill allocates $4 billion to address migration in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, with the goal of reducing “corruption, violence, and poverty that causes people to flee their home countries.” It would also reinstate the Central American Minors program, which reunites children with their relatives in the U.S., and would also create “the Central American Family Reunification Parole Program to more quickly unite families with approved family sponsorship petitions.”

Republicans and other members of the GOP have already voiced their opposition to Biden’s immigration reform plan.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Spokesman Chris Hartline said in a statement that the proposal was radical.

“The proposal by President Biden would give amnesty to eleven million illegal immigrants with no effort whatsoever to secure the border,” he said.

However, the proposal does address security at the border and focuses on using technology to screen for narcotics and other contraband at various checkpoints.

It also allows for the expansion of investigations into drug trafficking and allows DHS to develop strategies to improve ports of entries for asylum seekers.

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Ariana Figueroa
Ariana Figueroa

Ariana covers the nation's capital for States Newsroom. Her areas of coverage include politics and policy, lobbying, elections and campaign finance.