A border guard checks a passport at the border crossing between Tijuana and the United States.
Omar Martinez | Image Alliance | Getty Images
The Democrats on Thursday passed a comprehensive immigration law, backed by President Joe Biden. Legislation, however, faces an uphill battle in the narrowly divided Congress. Legislators are already suggesting that a step-by-step approach could gain more support from both parties.
The US Citizenship Act of 2021 will reflect the priorities set by the President in an executive order on his first day in office. Bill’s main sponsors – Sen. Bob Menendez, DN.J., and Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif. – revealed the legislation in the Senate and in the House.
The proposed bill would include:
- Establish an 8-year path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States by January 1st
- Providing an expedited path to citizenship for farm workers and undocumented young people who came to the United States as children with temporary protection status under the DACA
- Replace the word “foreigner” with “non-citizen”
- Increase country-specific caps on family and job-related legal immigration numbers
- The penalty prohibiting undocumented immigrants leaving the country from returning to the United States for three to ten years has been lifted
- Expansion of the transnational anti-drug task forces in Central America
- Increase technology funding on the southern border
The road to citizenship would give undocumented immigrants five years of provisional status, after which they could apply for a green card. Three years later, they could apply for citizenship.
DACA-protected undocumented immigrants and farm workers who can show work experience could skip the five years of provisional status and have green card eligibility.
Biden also signed an executive action to end the state of emergency on the southern border declared by former President Donald Trump and to halt border wall construction projects.
While Democrats have a small majority in both houses of Congress, the legislation would require at least 10 Republican votes to defeat a Senate filibuster and put the bill to a vote.
“I know that many think the bill has a chance to pass by 60 votes? And the answer is: We won’t know until we try,” Menendez said at the press conference on Thursday.
“We know that the way forward will require negotiations with others. But we will not make any concessions,” said Menendez.
Border security is expected to be a focus of debate between Republicans and Democrats.
“This bill provides for investments in all of our ports of entry,” said Sanchez. “We’re very confident that we can work more efficiently instead of being fixated on vanity projects like the wall that have proven ineffective.”
Sanchez suggested that in addition to a comprehensive package, the Democrats are open to a phased approach.
“We are pursuing one of the above strategies,” said Sanchez at the press conference. “All options are on the table, and we hope to pass robust immigration reform, but there are other great immigration laws that we are taking up and hopefully will pass too.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Praised the legislation but also suggested the possibility of a step-by-step approach.
“I applaud the president for enacting the laws he enacted. There are others who support little by little, and that could also be a good approach,” Pelosi said in a press conference on Thursday.
Biden and Congress turn to infrastructure as the Covid Relief Act nears completion. Therefore, it is unclear to what extent the government and Democrats will prioritize the adoption of a comprehensive immigration reform.
When asked whether the president would support the elimination of the filibuster in the Senate or the use of budget balancing that would only require a simple majority, Biden government officials did not respond directly.
“It’s just too early to speculate now,” said a White House official. “We’d like to begin by sharing what’s possible with our sponsors of this law, and informing the leadership on the hill of how they intend to promote immigration.”
Senator Lindsey Graham, RS.C., who has sponsored previous bipartisan immigration laws, including the Dream Act, said he doubted the feasibility of a comprehensive deal but saw the possibility of a closer one that would trade one path to legalization for DACA-. protected undocumented immigrants for more border security.
“The more people you legalize, the more things have to be given, so we’ll see. A conversation starts,” Graham told NBC News. “You just can’t legalize a group without addressing the underlying broken immigration system. You can only create more incentives. So a smaller deal might be possible.”
Congress has not passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill in decades. In 2013, a bipartisan bill was passed in the Democrat-led Senate, but it was never considered in the Republican-controlled House.
At the time, Conservative Republicans opposed a broad avenue to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and opposed comprehensive legislation advocating a phased approach that put border security first. Former Republican spokesman John Boehner did not put the bill to a vote.