On his first day of office, President Biden unveiled and sent his immigration reform bill, titled the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, to Congress. In unveiling the new bill, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters:
“[T]oday President Biden sent an immigration bill to Congress. The U.S. Citizenship Act modernizes our immigration system. It provides hard-working people who have enriched our communities and lived here for decades an opportunity to earn citizenship.”
Psaki cited key immigration priorities that motivated President Biden to support the bill, including managing the border responsibly, unifying families, growing the economy, addressing the cause of mass migration from Central America, and serving as a refuge for those who flee persecution.
Most significantly, President Biden’s legislative proposal includes provision for a five-year path to permanent residence (“green card” status) for undocumented individuals who were physically present in the United States on or before January 1, 2021, if they pass criminal and national security background checks and pay their taxes, followed by a three-year wait and additional criteria to apply for naturalization to U.S. citizenship. Certain categories of immigrants with long-standing ties to the United States who have previously been vetted by the government might have a shorter wait for green cards. These categories include Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) beneficiaries, or “Dreamers,” Temporary Protected Status (TPS) recipients, and agricultural workers.
This bill would also end the three- and ten-year bars for unlawful presence. Under current law, many individuals who might otherwise qualify for U.S. permanent resident status are ineligible to apply from within the United States due to status violations or visa overstay. Many of these immigrants are also ineligible to apply for an immigrant visa at a U.S. Consulate abroad due to a provision of law that imposes a three- or ten-year bar to readmission to the United States upon accruing “unlawful presence” of more than 180 days (3-year bar) or of a year (10-year bar). If passed into law, the new bill would eliminate this catch-22.
In addition, the new bill would recapture millions of previously unused immigrant visas to reduce green card backlogs, remove per-country visa caps, and provide rapid paths to a green card for children and spouses of permanent residents. Moreover, it would prevent the children of H-1B temporary workers from being forced to leave the U.S. or find their own immigration pathways upon turning 21 years old.
To place President Biden’s proposed major overhaul of the U.S. immigration system into context, Congress has not passed comprehensive immigration legislation for almost 35 years. The bipartisan 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, which granted lawful status to some 3 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, was signed into law by then-President Ronald Reagan.
It remains to be seen whether Congress will pass the proposed legislation, and if it does pass, what changes it might undergo. If no Republicans support the bill, Democrats in the Senate would need all 50 Democratic Senators to support the bill to force a tie with Republicans. In case of a tie, Vice President Kamala Harris would vote to break the tie. The bill faces better odds in the House where Democrats hold a 222-to-211 majority. While Democrats have been generally supportive of immigration reform, it is unclear whether all Democrats would support the bill in its current form. Further, it is likely that some Republicans may support the bill. Members in so-called “swing districts” on both sides of the aisle would feel the most pressure to vote with the opposing party.
Foster will continue to monitor developments in connection with new immigration laws and policies under the new administration and will make future updates available on our firm’s website at www.fosterglobal.com.