The White House and Democratic lawmakers on Thursday, Feb. 18 unveiled President Biden’s new immigration legislation, which would include a path to citizenship for those living in the U.S. without documentation.
This plan is based on the immigration legislation proposal Biden introduced during his first day in office. Many of the items within the proposal nullified former President Trump’s hardline policies, including his controversial family separation policy.
The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 most notably includes an eight-year path to citizenship for the nation’s nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants, but also includes a shorter naturalization process for agriculture workers and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients. Another component includes a plan to use technology to patrol the border.
The bill, sponsored by congresswoman Linda Sánchez, D-Calif. and Sen. Bob Menendez D-N.J., proposes $4 billion over Biden’s next four years to invest in migrant communities. The bill also includes plans to create refugee processing in Central America to discourage migrants from attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.
In a press conference, Menendez outlined some of the bill’s provisions.
“Undocumented immigrants who pass criminal background, national security checks and pay their taxes will be able to apply for a new six-year lawful prospective immigrants, or what we call, LPI status,” he said.
After five years, they can apply for green cards. Menendez explained this legislation would treat spouses and children of green card holders as immediate relatives, allowing them to immediately reunite with their families. LGBTQ families will be included as well. After three years, all green card holders are eligible to become citizens.
Another change includes removing the word “alien” from immigration code, replacing it with “non-citizen.”
“No longer will we dehumanize the undocumented,” Menendez said.
Passing the bill as one large package may present obstacles, and Democrats are considering whether to keep the proposals as one large bill or try to break it up into pieces. USA Today reported that Republicans are already criticizing the legislation for not focusing more on border security. Despite previously opposing Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief bill, many Republicans also said the country should not be prioritizing immigration reform while its own residents are reeling from COVID-19.
“No! This is not the right time and certainly not the right set of policies. Let’s focus on those Americans who are struggling right now,” Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio tweeted Thursday.
No! This is not the right time and certainly not the right set of policies. Let’s focus on those Americans who are struggling right now.
— Bill Johnson (@RepBillJohnson) February 18, 2021
He later tweeted, “Open Borders = More Crime.”
However, the current package will call for enhancing technology and infrastructure at the border for improved screening at ports of entry, aimed at targeting illegal activity.
Still, the bill could be difficult to pass with bipartisan support. With the Senate split evenly (and Vice President Kamala Harris serving as the tie breaker), gaining anything more than a simple majority will be a challenge. At least 60 votes will be required to pass this legislation.
If it’s not held up by a filibuster, Menendez said the bill could have universal appeal. Republicans from states with large farming communities have expressed interest in the aspects of the package that address migrant agricultural workers. Those from states with large technology industries may be interested in the segments that address streamlining visas to allow more international college students majoring in STEM to stay and work in the U.S.
Menendez emphasized that many undocumented workers are essential workers who contribute greatly to the U.S. economy.
There is also other legislation already passed in the House that Democrats are hoping to push in tandem with this current package. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act and the Dream and Promise Act, which both passed in the House in 2019, will soon be introduced in the Senate. The former addresses a pathway to citizenship for farm workers and the latter addresses path to citizenship for DACA recipients.
The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 focuses on the root cause of immigration as a humanitarian issue.
“We know that people don’t leave their homes to seek asylum willingly. They are forced to do so and need safety,” Menendez said. “For many, their choice is to stay and die, or leave and have their chance at living.”