Biden’s immigration reform legislative package, the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, has been introduced in the House by Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-CA) and will be delivered in the Senate by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) this week. The centerpiece of the legislation is an eight-year pathway for immigrants in the U.S. illegally to obtain citizenship. Passing the legislation will require overcoming many hurdles, including getting Republicans on board to reach the 60-vote threshold needed in the Senate.
This briefing provides background information on Biden’s immigration actions, a summary of the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, and a Prolegis bill text preview with U.S. Code redlines.
This briefing includes:
President Biden kicked off his administration with a flurry of actions and proposals to reform the U.S. immigration system. Since Jan. 20, Biden has issued ten executive actions on immigration-related issues ranging from preserving the Obama-era DACA program, reversing Trump’s travel bans from 13 countries, halting construction on the border wall, creating a task force to reunite families separated by the zero-tolerance policy, and raising the refugee cap. The Biden administration also issued an interim enforcement memo on Feb. 18 requiring Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers to gain preapproval from a senior manager before deporting certain persons in the U.S. illegally. This policy expected to lower immigration arrests and deportations.
According to reports, some of these policies have already led to a shift in conditions at the southern border and some have expressed expectations that Biden’s policies may lead to a surge of migrants seeking entry at the border. The challenge comes as there are insufficient immigration judges and agents to process applicants, particularly during the pandemic.
On his first day in office, Biden also sent Congress a legislative proposal on immigration. On Feb. 18, Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Representative Linda Sánchez (D-CA) introduced Biden’s U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 in the House and will deliver it to the Senate this week (check out the Prolegis bill text preview with redlines). As this broad immigration package is introduced in Congress, Biden has indicated that he is open to more targeted approaches to ensure protections for specific groups of immigrants. Pushing forward the legislation will be difficult as priorities in D.C. are focused on the pandemic and immigration legislation will require sixty votes in the Senate.
For more background information, check out the Prolegis Briefing on Biden’s immigration executive actions and the following links:
USA Citizenship Act
The centerpiece of the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 is a pathway to citizenship for individuals in the U.S. illegally, including those protected by DACA and Temporary Protected Status (TPS). This bill differs from previous major immigration reform legislations as it does not include significant boosts to enforcement on illegal immigration, which is a point of contention with Republicans. The bill faces hurdles to gaining the 60 votes in the Senate necessary to pass.
The major policies in the act fall under the following categories:
Providing pathways to citizenship and strengthening labor protections by:
Title I, Subtitle A: Creating a pathway for immigrants in the U.S. illegally to apply for temporary legal status with the ability to apply for green cards after five years (or immediately for Dreamers, TPS holders, and immigrant farmworkers). After three years, all green card holders who meet certain requirements could apply to become citizens.
Title III, Subtitle A: Reforming family-based immigration by increasing per-country caps, clearing backlogs, and enabling same-sex partners to sponsor their partner for immigration to the U.S. and to serve as a qualifying relative for other immigration benefits and purposes.
Title III, Subtitle B and Subtitle C: Including the NO BAN Act which prohibits discrimination based on religion and increasing Diversity Visas from 55,000 to 80,000.
Title III, Subtitle E: Providing new funding for state and local governments, private organizations, and non-profits to expand programs to promote integration and inclusion.
Title III, Subtitle D: Eliminating per-country visa caps for employment-based visas and providing the dependents of H-1B visa holders with work authorization.
Title III, Title V: Requiring DHS and the Department of Labor establish a commission to make recommendations for improving the employment verification process and protecting workers who are victims of workplace retaliation from deportation.
Prioritizing “smart border controls” by:
Title II, Subtitle C: Authorizing additional funding for DHS to deploy technology to expedite screening and enhanced identification of narcotics and contraband and authorizing DHS to develop a strategy to manage and secure the southern border.
Title II, Subtitle C: Providing funding for training for Border Patrol agents and creating a Border Community Stakeholder Advisory Committee.
Title II, Subtitle D: Enhancing the ability to prosecute individuals involved in smuggling and trafficking networks and increasing sanctions against foreign narcotics traffickers.
Addressing the root causes of migration and providing other reforms by:
Title II, Subtitle A: Codifying and funding a $4 billion plan to address underlying causes of migration, including increasing assistance to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
Title II, Subtitle B: Establishing Designated Processing Centers throughout Central America to register and process displaced persons.
Title IV, Subtitle A: Expanding family case management programs, expanding training for immigration judges, and increasing discretion for judges to review cases and grant relief to certain individuals.
Title IV, Subtitle C: Eliminating the one-year deadline for filing asylum claims, providing funding to reduce asylum application backlogs, and raising the cap on U visas (for crime victims who cooperate with authorities).
A redline preview of the bill is available on Prolegis. Additionally, the press statement from Senator Menendez can be found here, and a fact sheet from the White House summarizing the bill can be found here.
For more analysis of the legislation, check out these links: