Immigration law and policy have always been politically contested in the United States, but we have never seen more attacks on immigration than we’ve witnessed over the past four years. But thankfully, a new day is here! We are thrilled to welcome President Biden and Vice President Harris!
On January 20th, President Biden “announced a welcoming and inclusive vision for immigration in a legislative proposal that provides a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants who call the United States home.”
President Biden’s Day One immigration bill consists of 4 key components:
An 8-year pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants. The bill would allow undocumented immigrants to apply for temporary legal status. If they meet specific requirements, pass criminal and national security background checks, and pay taxes, they would qualify for a 5-year path to permanent residency (green card), followed by a 3-year path to naturalization (citizenship). DACA recipients, TPS holders, and immigrant farmworkers who meet particular requirements will be immediately eligible for permanent residency (green cards) and eligible to apply for citizenship after 3 years.
Removing 3 and 10 year bars for green card applicants, expanding legal immigration. Under current immigration laws, there are penalties for noncitizens who enter the U.S. without inspection or overstay their period of authorized stay. If they leave the U.S. after that, they are prevented from re-entering the U.S. for 3 or 10 years, depending on the specific facts of their case. For many green card applicants, the only way they can apply for their green card is outside the U.S., so this creates a Catch-22 situation for many close family members of U.S. citizens. This bill would eliminate the 3 and 10 year bars, allowing families to reunite in the U.S. while their green card applications are pending.
Expand existing immigration channels. The Biden administration also plans to address multiple issues with the family-based immigration system to bring families together, including, “clearing backlogs, recapturing unused visas, eliminating lengthy wait times, and increasing per-country visa caps.” This bill would also provide work authorization for dependents of H-1B visa holders and prevent children of H-1B visa holders from “aging-out” to keep their families together in the U.S. This bill aims to improve immigration courts by expanding training for immigration judges, investing in better family case management programs and technology, and restoring judicial discretion. Increased judicial discretion would allow judges to use their judgment to grant relief to more immigrants who qualify.
Implement smarter border control. We have seen an influx of measures to increase immigration enforcement, which has cost the federal government about $333 billion since 2003. While federal spending on immigration enforcement has continually increased, Congress has not passed any legislation to support immigrants in over 30 years. In the past, comprehensive immigration reform bills have been directly tied to increased enforcement measures, but the Biden plan is different. President Biden plans to invest in border infrastructure and screening technology to screen for criminal activity and contraband, but also to process asylum claims more efficiently and humanely. This bill would provide and fund improved training and continuing education for border officers to improve safety and promote professionalism. It also codifies the Biden’s 4-year interagency plan to address the underlying causes of migration by increasing providing assistance to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras as they address the corruption, violence, and poverty that causes migrants to seek asylum at the U.S. southern border.
This bill with also make a conscious effort to eliminate anti-immigrant and dehumanizing rhetoric, changing the word “alien” to “noncitizen” across immigration law. We are hopeful that this bill will be the beginning of fair and inclusive immigration policies throughout the United States.