Lawmakers on Capitol Hill and the White House Thursday unveiled President Joe Biden’s sweeping immigration legislation, including a proposal for a path to citizenship for roughly 11 million migrants living without legal status in the United States.
“We’re here today because last November, 80 million Americans voted against Donald Trump and against everything he stood for. They voted to restore common sense, compassion, and competence in our government, and part of that mandate is fixing our immigration system,” Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., told a virtual press conference.
The plan is that Biden introduced on his first day in office.
The legislation, entitled the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, includes an eight-year pathway to citizenship for nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants, a shorter process to legal status for agriculture workers and recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and an enforcement plan that includes deploying technology to patrol the border.
The bill also calls for $4 billion over four years “to confront corruption, enhance security and foster prosperity” in migrant communities. In addition, the bill also lays out a plan to create refugee processing in Central America to discourage migrants from trying to travel to the U.S.-Mexico border.
The bill is sponsored by Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., in the House of Representatives and by Menendez in the Senate.
Passing one large immigration reform package will be a challenge. Several lawmakers have noted that they will try to push through legislation that already passed in the House, along with the legislation for Biden’s proposal.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi didn’t offer specifics about the legislative strategy. Democrats are weighing whether to try to enact the policies as a large legislative package or whether to try enact elements of it using a piecemeal approach.
“Now, how it happens through the legislative process remains to be seen, Pelosi said. “But it is a priority and we will be working on it.”
Congressional Hispanic Caucus chairman Raul Ruiz said last week that “there’s three routes that were working very hard to secure a vote on these bills before April 1.” The Farm Workforce Modernization Act and the Dream and Promise Act, which both passed in the House in 2019, will be among the other bills introduced.
“We have the reform bill that we’re proud that Biden fulfilled his promise of having that bill on day one,” Ruiz said last Tuesday during a virtual town hall with Unidos US. “The two other bills that will help us achieve a pathway to citizenship for millions of families are bills that passed last Congress with bipartisan support.”
What is in the legislation?
The Farm Workforce Modernization Act creates a pathway to legalization for agricultural or farm workers, as well as reforms the existing visa program for agriculture workers, known as the H-2A visa. The Dream and Promise Act creates a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients.
The last time comprehensive, bipartisan immigration legislation was brought up in Congress was in 2013, and comprehensive immigration reform hasn’t passed in over 30 years.
The new legislation outlines that the pathway for citizenship for undocumented immigrants will start with five-year temporary status, and then they will be able to apply for a green card, which they must have for three years before being able to apply for citizenship. Only undocumented immigrants who are in the United States by Jan. 1, 2021, will be eligible for the legalization process.
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