Democrats unveil proposal to show undocumented migrants the route to citizenship
The proposed legislation would allow eligible immigrants to apply for temporary legal status and a right to work. The proposed new laws would allow some undocumented immigrants to pursue an eight-year path to citizenship. Photo: Sandy Huffaker / AFP / Getty Images The Biden administration and Congress Democrats on Thursday officially unveiled laws that would dramatically change the country’s immigration laws and create a path to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States. After failing significant immigration reform in two decades on Capitol Hill, Joe Biden and his allies on Capitol Hill are resurrecting efforts that the new president has signaled will be a top priority domestically. The proposal, based on the framework Biden outlined on his first day in office, is presented by California Congressman Linda Sánchez and in the Senate by New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, both Democrats with experience negotiating Immigration Laws in Congress. “We have an economic and moral imperative to pass great, bold and inclusive immigration reform,” Menendez said during a virtual press conference. Democrats won a mandate in 2020 to rebuild the nation’s immigration system after four years of Donald Trump’s “hateful horror show,” the senator argued. At the heart of the legislation is an eight-year path to citizenship for the nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants, White House officials said on a call with reporters Wednesday evening. Under the plan, eligible undocumented immigrants could live and work in the United States. After five years, they could apply for a green card, which gives them permanent status in the US and the option of obtaining citizenship after three more years. Some immigrants, including farm workers, immigrants given temporary status after fleeing war and natural disasters, and undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, could apply for a green card immediately, officials said. After three years, they could apply to be US citizens. To avoid a spike at the border, petitioners must have been in the U.S. by January 1, 2021 and pass all required criminal and national security checks, file taxes, and pay application fees. The proposal also seeks to tighten and expand the legal immigration system by increasing the current caps on family and employer-related immigrant visas. Spouses, legal partners and permanent residents would be exempted from the applicable country limits, making it easier for them to join a family while in the US. It would also explicitly include same-sex partners as immediate relatives. Another aspect of the plan would repeal Clinton-era immigration rules, which prohibit undocumented immigrants leaving the US from being lawfully re-entered for three or ten years, depending on how long they have been illegally in the country. It also changes the term “foreigner” – a word that immigrants have long referred to as dehumanizing – to “non-citizens”. Congress has tried unsuccessfully to pass an immigration overhaul on several occasions in the past few decades, relying on a formula designed to find bipartisan support and a path to citizenship for undocumented people to improve border security and enforcement. This calculation breaks off from this model. Rather than focusing on border security as a core piece of legislation, White House officials say the bill aims to address the “root causes” of migration. To that end, it would invest US $ 4 billion in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras over four years to prevent people from fleeing due to poverty and violence. The legislation would also set up processing centers across the region where people from Central America could apply for refugee status in order to legally enter the US. An official said the goal is to stem the flow of migrants to the U.S. border, a journey that has become increasingly dangerous. The overhaul is on the brink of spike as Democrats have a slim majority in the House and Senate. Passing the bill in the Senate would require the support of at least 10 Republicans, a major challenge on an issue that has only become more divided over the last few years. Under Trump, Republicans rallied around many of the former president’s tough, isolationist policies that enraged Democrats and Independents. Officials dodged questions about what Biden would do if he couldn’t win support from Republican lawmakers. The Senate is split 50-50, and some activists are pushing Biden to use parliamentary tactics that allow Democrats to pass certain immigration measures without Republican support. “We are focused on getting the law in place,” a senior White House official said of the call, later adding that it was “too early to speculate on its prospects or possible legislative path”. During Thursday’s virtual press conference, Sanchez and Menendez, key supporters of the law in Congress, said they had hoped to work with Republicans on the law but had no intention of replacing the push for comprehensive reform in exchange for a gradual approach to give up. “The reason we didn’t get immigration reform across the finish line isn’t because of a lack of will,” Menendez said. “It is so because we have repeatedly made too many compromises and surrendered too quickly to marginal voices who have refused to accept humanity and the contributions of immigrants to our country and to reject everything … as an amnesty.” On his first day in office, Biden set out to reverse many of his predecessor’s immigration policies, including the preservation of Daca, an Obama-era program that protects immigrants brought to the United States as children from deportation Construction of the border wall stops and a ban lifts travelers from predominantly Muslim nations. Although presidents have broad authority over immigration, there are limits to what can be achieved through executive action. This was taken in sharp relief after Trump attempted to end the Daca program, leaving hundreds of thousands of recipients in a state of limbo amid the ensuing legal battle. At a CNN town hall on Tuesday, Biden reiterated his support for a major overhaul that would pave the way for citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the US. But he also said he was open to a targeted approach that would pave the way for smaller, dedicated groups of immigrants to obtain citizenship “in the meantime”.