The House has opted to immediately vote on two piecemeal Immigration reform bills instead of the Biden-backed US Citizenship Act of 2021, which is a comprehensive immigration reform package whose centerpiece is an eight-year path to citizenship for the estimated 10.5 million undocumented immigrants living in the country. The bill also addresses the underlying causes of migration, expands the number of available visas and green cards, invests in technology and infrastructure at ports of entry along the border, removes obstacles to asylum, and shores up protections for immigrant workers. It’s become increasingly unlikely that the broad legislation will attract the 10 Republican votes needed to proceed in the Senate, unless Democrats eliminate or alter the filibuster in some way. In the meantime, immigrant advocates have been open to focusing on smaller bills with the aim of delivering immediate relief to their communities, which have been under siege for the past four years.
The Dream and Promise Act offers a pathway to citizenship for about 2.5 million DREAMers and other immigrants with temporary humanitarian protection. The original DREAM Act was narrower, covering about 1.5 million people. Many of them have lived in the US for years if not decades, but former President Donald Trump sought to dismantle the programs. DREAMers would face a longer path to eventual citizenship. More than 825,000 DREAMers have already been allowed to live and work in the US under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which Trump unsuccessfully sought to undo. Humanitarian protectees would face a shorter route. Among them are Liberians who sought refuge in the US from civil war in their home country from about 1989 to 2003 under deferred enforced departure. About 400,000 citizens of El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti have also been able to live and work in the US with TPS, but Trump tried to terminate their status, among nationals of other countries, starting in November 2017. He argued that conditions in those countries have improved enough that their citizens can now safely return. But many of them have resided in the US for decades and have laid down roots, making it difficult for them to return to countries they no longer call home. These protectees would be allowed to apply for green cards immediately if they have resided in the US for at least three years and were eligible for TPS on September 17, 2017, or had deferred enforced departure status as of January 20, 2021. After five years of holding a green card, they would be able to apply for citizenship. DREAMers, on the other hand, would have to apply for “conditional permanent residency,” which would only be granted under certain conditions.
The Farm Workforce Modernization Act is the biggest legalization effort supported by Republicans in recent memory, passing the House 260-165 in 2019. The bill would give farmworkers who have worked in agriculture for at least 180 days over the past two years the ability to apply for “Certified Agricultural Worker” status, which can be renewed in six-month or five-year increments if they continue to work in agriculture for at least 100 days a year. It also offers long-term farmworkers a path to a green card, which requires at least four more years of experience in the industry and a $1,000 fine. The bill streamlines the application process for the H-2A temporary visa program for seasonal agricultural workers, which admitted over 196,000 people in 2018. It also allows for up to 40,000 green cards to be granted annually, either through the sponsorship of an employer or if workers maintain H-2A status for 10 years. Additionally, the bill would create a new program capped at 20,000 visas for year-round agricultural industries, which were previously barred from participating in the H-2A program and faced labor shortages, including dairy farming and producers of other animal products.