US lawmakers are moving forward with President Joe Biden’s immigration reform plan, introducing a bill that aims to erase the concept of “illegal aliens” and give millions of such residents an easier way to become lawful citizens.
The US Citizenship Act of 2021, backed by Biden and introduced on Thursday by lead legislative sponsors Representative Linda Sanchez (D-California) and Senator Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey), would replace the word “alien” with “noncitizen” in government documents. It would include other elements of the immigration initiative that Biden announced on Inauguration Day, including an eight-year pathway for illegal aliens to obtain citizenship, and a fast-track process for legalizing farm workers and so-called “Dreamers” – immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as minors.
Biden also plans to increase the per-country caps on family and employment-based immigration, and to boost the annual number of so-called diversity visas – those awarded randomly, by lottery, in largely Third World nations with relatively little immigration to the US – to 80,000 from 55,000. Travel bans, such as that imposed by former President Donald Trump on predominantly Muslim countries, would be blocked. Among the justifications for such a travel ban from the previous administration was the fact it targeted countries with inadequate or nonexistent security-vetting capabilities.
“We have an economic and moral imperative to pass big, bold immigration reform,” Menendez told reporters. The bill would modernize immigration and move beyond Trump’s “hateful horror show,” he added.
Unlike past attempts at legalizing the millions of illegal aliens already living in the US, the Biden bill wouldn’t pledge a strong crackdown on border security in return. The legislation would expand anti-drug task forces in Central America and provide increased funding for technology investments at the southern border, but enhanced legal orientations and protections would help immigrants avoid being caught up in ICE raids.
The “pathway to citizenship” would be available for all immigrants who were residing in the country as of January 1, 2021. Those applying for citizenship would immediately gain “lawful protected immigrant” (LPI) status, allowing them to work legally in the country, and would be eligible for a green card after five years. Citizenship could be granted after an additional three years. The overall process would be cut to eight years from the current 13.
Biden would also allow immigrants who previously lived in the US but left the country for three years to qualify for LPI status, meaning that people who departed or were deported during Trump’s presidency would be able to jump in line without penalty.
Dreamers would be allowed to skip the LPI process and start with a green card, giving them a three-year wait for citizenship. Anyone who entered the US as a minor prior to January 1, 2021 would qualify as Dreamers – a far larger subset than was previously protected under former President Barack Obama’s DACA order – and their spouses and children would be given the same privileges.
Biden’s plan also would allow more migrants to live with family members in the US and work legally while awaiting visas, and it would wipe away certain types of criminal convictions for purposes of immigration. Even the criteria for recognizing marriages would be liberalized.
While supporters of the bill will emphasize phrasing such as “pathway to citizenship,” immigration lawyer Hassan Ahmad acknowledged that the Biden plan is an amnesty program. In fact, he said, “This would be the largest amnesty in history. The anti-immigrant movement will not let this slide. This bill is a reversal of 40 years of their hateful advocacy.”
7. This would be the largest amnesty in history. The anti-immigrant movement will *not* let this slide. This bill is a reversal of 40 years of their hateful ‘advocacy.’ Ignore the #TantonNetwork at your own peril. If this bill fails, it’ll be because of them.
— Hassan Ahmad (@HMAesq) February 18, 2021
While Democrats control both houses of Congress, they lack the 60-vote majority that would be needed to force a vote under the Senate cloture rule if Republicans blocked the legislation in unison. Immigration advocacy groups are calling for eliminating the filibuster rule – changing a fundamental aspect of US lawmaking that dates from Ancient Rome – to ram through Biden’s bill.
“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,”Erika Andiola, chief advocacy officer with RAICES, told USA Today.
Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) called Biden’s bill “a disaster,” saying: “It does nothing to secure our border, yet grants mass amnesty, welfare benefits – even voting rights – to over 11 million people who came here illegally. It’s a nonstarter.”
President Biden’s immigration plan is a disaster. It does nothing to secure our borders, yet grants mass amnesty, welfare benefits—even voting rights—to over 11 million people who came here illegally. It’s a nonstarter.https://t.co/gEId6uGwh8
— Tom Cotton (@SenTomCotton) February 18, 2021
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