Democrats have unveiled a sweeping immigration reform legislation to counteract the Trump administration’s hardline border policies.
The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 will create an eight-year path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the United States. First, it would provide them with a new type of temporary status for five years and then allow them to obtain citizenship after another three years. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients, those who qualify for Temporary Protected Status from countries suffering from war and natural disasters, and farm workers who can prove they have a work history essentially get bumped to the front of the “green card” line provided they pass background checks and meet other requirements. The path to citizenship only applies to people who have been in the country since Jan. 1, 2021.
The bill removes the word illegal “alien” in the immigration code, replacing it with “noncitizen.” Many immigration advocates have decried this word as “derogatory” and “dehumanizing.” The bill would also end the three and 10-year bans on reentry for undocumented immigrants who voluntarily leave the country. It reforms legal immigration processes by no longer counting spouses and minor children against a country’s share of allotted visas. Separately, the number of diversity visas issued for countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S. will increase from 55,000 to 80,000 [ABC].
The measure provides funding for more immigration judges and support staff to help with the backlog of asylum seekers. The bill provides funding for lawyers to represent minors and other vulnerable groups. Biden’s bill would also send $4 billion to Central American countries over four years, conditioned on the ability of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala “to reduce the endemic corruption, violence, and poverty that causes people to flee their home countries” [CNS]. The bill provides for increased security at ports of entry focused on detecting drugs and other contraband. Existing criminal penalties for unauthorized immigrants remain in place, including those that bar certain criminals from obtaining green cards.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA), along with a group of fellow Democrats, formally announced the introduction of the bill in Congress at a virtual news conference on Thursday. “The reason we have not gotten immigration reform over the finish line is not because of a lack of will,” Menendez said. “It is because time and time again, we have compromised too much and capitulated too quickly to fringe voices who refuse to accept the humanity and contributions of immigrants to our country.”
POLITICS EDITOR: CARSON CHOATE
PHOTO CREDITS: THE WASHINGTON POST