Wednesday, January 20, 2021

President Biden’s Day One Immigration Bill

Today, President Joe Biden revealed the details of the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, a legislative proposal to transform the American immigration system.  It includes an eight-year path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and an expedited path for DACA recipients, Temporary Protected Status holders, and agricultural workers. The bill would additionally use various tools to establish safe, orderly migration and humanitarian protection channels from Central America and increase accountability and transparency in immigration enforcement.

The bill , of course, is just the opening of what will likely be a long process toward enactment of immigration reform. 

After the announcement, Tom Jawetz, vice president of Immigration Policy at the Center for American Progress, issued the following statement:

"The Trump administration made full use of its administrative authorities to weaponize the dysfunction long embedded in the country’s immigration system. While the Biden administration has already begun to lay out plans to similarly use administrative action to repair the damage done and build a more fair, humane, and workable system, it is heartening to see that it is simultaneously working to tackle problems with the underlying system itself. By presenting this proposal to Congress for introduction, President Biden has not only fulfilled a campaign promise but is also showing that building a better American immigration system will be a top priority of his administration.

Central to the president’s proposal is a path to citizenship for an estimated 10.4 million undocumented immigrants in the country today—individuals and families that have experienced four years of cruelty and violations of the rule of law. Among these individuals are an estimated 5 million who have been on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic as essential workers, risking their own lives to keep the country running, as well as 1.3 million of their spouses and minor children. Notably, a number of the provisions in the bill that could play an important role in the administration’s constructive engagement with Central American countries—including the restoration of the Central American Minors program and the creation of family reunification parole programs—can be achieved even in the absence of legislative reform. We applaud the work that went into producing this bill and look forward to seeing it enacted into law."

UPDATE (1/21):  Here is the American Immigration Council's statement on the U.S. Citizenship Act:

On his first day in office, President Biden announced his plans to send a bold immigration bill to Congress in the coming weeks. The expansive provisions show that the Biden administration is ready to embrace immigrants as part of the fabric of American society. 

Here are four key components you should know about:

1. An eight-year pathway to citizenship for all 11 million undocumented immigrants.

The bill would provide a five-year path to permanent residence for all undocumented immigrants present in the United States on January 1, 2021, followed by a three-year wait for naturalization. Certain individuals with long-standing ties to the United States and previous vetting by the government would be expedited, including over 1 million people with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Temporary Protected Status—in addition to agricultural workers.

For more background, see:

2. Eliminating the three- and ten-year bars and expanding legal immigration.

Many immigrants who could have a chance to legalize their status may not be able to do so. This is because of penalties that prohibit green card applicants from returning to the U.S. for three or 10 years if they depart after being in the country unauthorized. And many of these people who qualify for green cards are required to apply from abroad.

The new bill will reverse these bars which prevent or delay many eligible family members from becoming lawful permanent residents—even if they are already in the United States.

For more background, see:

3. Expanding existing immigration channels.

The bill will also make significant changes to the legal immigration system. It will recapture millions of previously unused visas to reduce green card backlogs, eliminate per-country caps on visas, and provide rapid paths to a green card for children and spouses of permanent residents. It will also prevent children of H-1B visa holders from “aging out” and being forced to leave the United States.

For more background, see:

4. Untangling immigration enforcement from comprehensive solutions.

Since 2003, Congress has authorized over $330 billion on immigration enforcement—and the number of U.S. Border Patrol agents nearly doubled. Yet we have not seen Congress pass any measures to support immigrants in over 30 years despite having consistently expanded the enforcement system. 

President Biden’s bill is different than previous efforts to pass a comprehensive bill because it is not directly tied to immigration enforcement measures, which have been the singular focus of immigration policy for years. 

For more background, see:

President Biden’s vision for immigration reform is a welcome development. If passed into law, the bill would finally provide channels for millions of people who call this country home to validate their status. It is one step toward a more fair and just immigration system.  

The American Immigration Council is committed to keeping you informed as the new administration makes its vision a reality. We will continue to be your resource for much-needed facts in the immigration debate.


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