Lawmakers on Capitol Hill and the White House Thursday unveiled President Joe Biden's sweeping immigration legislation, including a proposal for a
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 based on the comprehensive immigration legislation proposal 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.
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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 UnidosUS. “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.
DACA recipients, TPS holders as of Jan. 1, 2017, and farm workers will be able to directly apply for a green card.
In regards to border security, the bill will call for enhancing the technology infrastructure at the border for more robust screening at ports of entry to detect contraband and criminal activity.
More:Meet the 7 congresswomen who are steering Biden’s immigration agenda in the House
Rep. Linda Sánchez, who is leading the bill through the House along with six other congresswomen, previously told USA TODAY that while getting immigration reform passed will be a “collective effort,” it’s one that must happen even if it looks different than what Biden has proposed.
“What is non-negotiable is inaction,” she said. “We want to deliver. We will get this done.”
Biden over the past several weeks has begun unwinding several of former President Donald Trump’s hardline immigration policies, including halting construction on the border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and establishing a task force to reunify children separated from their parents or guardians at the border under Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy.
Activists call for end to filibuster
While activists praise the bill, they also warn lawmakers and the Biden administration that it will be difficult to pass with bipartisan support. Some activists are suggesting that the filibuster likely will have to be abolished in order to pass the legislation.
“If Republicans come forward with ideas and votes, then it might be viable to press for reform on a bipartisan basis. But we should be clear-eyed about the realities of the current Republican Party, its bad faith towards Biden and its cowardly fealty to the vocal contingent of Trumpy anti-immigrant voters,” Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, said in a statement. “If Democrats eliminate or reform the filibuster, this bill would have a chance to pass with Democratic votes alone.”
Erika Andiola, chief advocacy officer at RAICES, also said in a statement that the filibuster must be ended, that Biden should use executive action to protect immigrant communities and that a pathway to citizenship for some immigrants should be included in the COVID-19 relief package.
“Now is the time for Democrats to use every tool at their disposal to provide protection to the immigrant community without relying on the party of Trump and without compromising on further inhumane enforcement,” Andiola said in the statement.
Contributing: Christal Hayes
Reach Rebecca Morin at Twitter @RebeccaMorin_