By Sandra G. Leon
Congressional Democrats have authored a bill to provide a legal path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants already in the US, fulfilling one of Joe Biden’s biggest campaign promises.
The bill outlines an eight-year path to gaining citizenship, but reduced that timeframe to three years for some farmer workers, immigrants that were brought into the US as minors, and those who were granted temporary protected status for fleeing natural and manmade disasters.
First introduced in the House by California Democrat Linda Sánchez, the same bill will be introduced next week in the US Senate by Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey.
“The reason we have not gotten immigration reform over the finish line is not because of a lack of will,” Sen. Menendez said. “It is because time and time again, we have compromised too much and capitulated too quickly to fringe voices who refuse to accept the humanity and contributions of immigrants to our country.”
The package provides new funding for facilities in Central America that process refugees applications for asylum as a way to discourage large migrant caravans that travel to the US border from Central America and Mexico.
Under the new provisions, undocumented immigrants who leaving and attempt to re-enter the country would no longer face an up to 10-year ban from the United States.
Diversity visas for people from countries with low rates of immigration to the US, would be increased from 50,000 per year to 85,000 under the new proposal. The bill also makes changes to how visa quotas are counted by no longer counting spouses and minor children against a country’s share of allotted visas.
The path to citizenship will only be available to people who were already in the country as of Jan. 1, 2021. Anyone who who entered the country illegally after that date would not qualify.
The bill package also includes funding for increased security at ports of entry focused on detecting drugs and other contraband, retains criminal penalties for unauthorized immigrants, and continues to bar immigrants convicted of certain criminals from obtaining green cards. Under existing law, anyone convicted of an aggravated felony or a crime involving illegal narcotics is not admissible in the U.S.
Another important change in the law will remove the word “alien” throughout the entire immigration code and replace it with “noncitizen.”
Republicans have traditionally opposed federal legislation to create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. The Democrats in the House may have enough votes to pass the package with no Republicans but, with an evenly divided Senate, without Republican support Democrats would need every Democratic vote to force a tie and allow Vice-President Kamala Harris to cast the tie-breaking vote.