The Biden Administration has promised policies that diverge greatly from those of the preceding Trump Administration, particularly when it comes to immigration law. Changes to United States immigration law will have major ramifications to peoples’ lives, regardless which political party oversees reform.
President Biden has already introduced numerous major legislative proposals to reform immigration, and implemented several changes using his Executive authority. This article examines what is included in the immigration bills proposed by the Biden Administration.
What has the Biden Administration Proposed?
On his first day in office, President Biden introduced his legislative proposal to reform the United States immigration system through what his administration calls The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021. The Biden Administration assured that the bill it sent to Congress will “restore humanity and American values to the immigration system.” The bill proposes changes to pathways to citizenship, the visa system for employment and families, asylum and refugees, border security, among many other proposals.
Along with The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, President Biden has also urged Congress to pass The Dream and Promise Act and Farm Workforce Modernization Act. The Biden Administration says these two bills “will protect millions of families, children, and essential workers who live, work, study, and worship in our communities” if passed.
What Biden’s Legislation Would Do
The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021
The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 is expansive in its changes to the U.S. immigration system. The legislation would create an eight-year path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants and would even remove the word “alien” in immigration law, and instead use “noncitizen.” Other proposals included in the legislation are discussed below.
Pathways to Citizenship
If passed, the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 would create pathways to citizenship for noncitizens, “DACA” recipients, and temporary protected status (TPS) individuals. The White House says undocumented individuals are able to apply for temporary legal status under the legislation, and these individuals can then apply for green cards after five years of provisional status if they pay their taxes and pass criminal and national security background checks.
Under the legislation, DACA-protected undocumented immigrants (often called “dreamers”), TPS holders, and immigrant farm workers who can provide work history could skip the five years of provisional status and have green card eligibility immediately under the legislation.
After three years of holding a green card, individuals who pass additional background checks and demonstrate knowledge of English and U.S. civics can apply to become citizens so long as they are physically present in the U.S. on or before January 1, 2021. Individuals who were deported on or after January 20, 2017 and were physically present for at least three years for family unity or other humanitarian purposes prior to removal, may receive a waiver of the presence requirement from the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Noncitizens who are nonagricultural workers and who have performed at least 2,300 work hours (or 400 work days) in the preceding five-year period prior to application may also receive TPS.
New LPI Status
In another pathway to citizenship, eligible noncitizens physically present in the United States as of January 1, 2021 would be able to receive “lawful prospective immigrant” (LPI) status. LPI status would be a new category of status that offers a path to lawful permanent residence. LPI status itself would be granted in six-year increments. Individuals may adjust their status under the Act from LPI to lawful permanent resident status if they held LPI status for at least five year and pass criminal, tax, and national security background checks.
The legislation seeks to protect immigrant workers from serious labor violations by granting workers who experience serious labor violations greater access to U visa relief if they cooperate with worker protection agencies. Workers who are victims of workplace retaliation will be protected from deportation under the legislation so that labor agencies can interview these workers. The legislation also increases penalties imposed upon employers who violate labor laws while employing migrant and seasonal workers.
“Smart” Border Controls
If passed, the Act will increase budget allocations to the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for improved immigration enforcement. Funds would provide technology and infrastructure that would expedite screening and enhance the ability for border patrol to identify narcotics in all ports of entry and process asylum seekers. The legislation would also authorize the DHS Secretary to develop and implement a strategy for securing the southern border between ports of entry. The strategy would focus on flexible solutions and technology that would improve DHS’ ability to detect illicit activity, assess the effectiveness of border security, and improve adaptability to changing needs.
The legislation provides funding for training and continuing education for border patrol and other DHS agents that promotes officer safety and professionalism. A Border Community Stakeholder Advisory Committee would also be created and would provide more special agents to work at the DHS Office of Professional Responsibility to investigate criminal and administrative misconduct. The Act would also require department-wide policies governing the use of force.
“Root Causes” of Immigration
The Act would codify and provide $4 billion in funds for a four-year inter-agency plan to address the underlying causes of migration to the U.S. southern border. Improved assistance to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras will be made available so long as those countries reduce corruption, violence, and poverty. The bill would also establish Designated Processing Centers throughout Central America to register and process displaced persons for refugee resettlement either in the United States or elsewhere. The legislation would re-institute the Central American Minors program to reunite children with U.S. relatives and would create a Central American Family Reunification Parole Program to more quickly unite families with approved family sponsorship petitions.
Fair Processing of Asylum Reforms
The Act would eliminate the one-year deadline imposed upon individuals filing asylum claims, and would provide funding to reduce asylum application backlogs. The U visa cap would also be raised to 30,000. Foreign nationals who assist U.S. troops would receive greater protection, as will U visa, T visa, and VAWA applicants. The legislation is said to expand family case management programs and training for immigration judges while reducing immigration court backlogs and improving technology for immigration courts. Immigration judges would have more discretion to review cases and grant relief to deserving individuals.
The Biden Administration says the Act will clear backlogs for family-based immigration applicants, including by recapturing unused visas, eliminating lengthy wait times, increasing per-country visa caps, and allowing immigrants with approved family-sponsorship petitions to join family in the United States on a temporary basis while they wait for green cards to become available.. Three and ten year bars to entry to the U.S. will also be eliminated under the bill.
The Act would clear visa backlogs for employment-based categories, including by recapturing unused visas, reducing wait times, and eliminating per-country caps. Graduates of U.S. universities with advanced STEM degrees will find it easier to stay in the United States under the legislation, while workers in lower-wage sectors will have improved access to green cards. The Act provides work authorization to dependents of H-1B visa holders, and prevents children from “aging out” of the system.
The amount of diversity visas issued would increase to 80,000 under the bill. And, the legislation would include the NO BAN Act, which prohibits discrimination based on religion and limits presidential authority to issue future bans.
Under the bill, immigrant and refugee integration and citizenship will be promoted by providing funding to state and local governments, private organizations, educational institutions, community-based organizations, and non-profit organizations that promote integration and inclusion, English language instruction, and assistance to individuals seeking citizenship.
The American Dream and Promise Act
The American Dream and Promise Act would mostly apply to DACA immigrants, creating a path to citizenship for these individuals. The bill passed the House of Representatives in March 2021 but has yet to make its way through the Senate.
Farm Workforce Modernization Act
The Farm Workforce Modernization Act would provide farm workers who are in the country illegally a pathway to legal status. Under the bill, some farm workers could receive a green card if a fine is paid and they stay in the agricultural industry for another four to eight years, depending on how long they have already been doing agricultural work. The bill passed the House of Representatives in March 2021, but has yet to make its way through the Senate.