The White House announced a sweeping immigration bill Thursday that would create an eight-year path to citizenship for millions of immigrants already in the country and provide a faster track for undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children. The legislation faces an uphill climb in a narrowly divided Congress, and Senate Democrats do not have the 60 Democratic votes needed to pass the measure with just their party’s support. The effort comes as there are multiple standalone bills in Congress aimed at revising smaller pieces of the country’s immigration system. Administration officials said the best path forward and plans either to pass one bill or break it into multiple pieces would be up to Congress.
The US Citizenship Act of 2021, includes cutting the time to acquire citizenship to eight years instead of 13. First, individuals would be in a temporary status for five years, with three years until they get citizenship, amounting to an eight-year path. There’s an exception for undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children, who fall under a form of humanitarian relief known as Temporary Protected Status or who are farmworkers. Those individuals can go directly to green cards if they meet requirements, including passing background checks.
To be eligible for the bill’s legalization plan, immigrants must have been in the country before January 1, 2021. The bill would also remove the word “alien”, and exempt certain categories from counting toward annual caps. The bill also provides funding to US Citizenship and Immigration Services to chip away at the backlog of asylum applications. The bill provides funding for more immigration judges and puts an emphasis on access to counsel. It authorizes funding for counsel for children and vulnerable individuals, and eliminates the one-year limit for filing an asylum case.
The measure would also repeal the bars to reentering the United States if an individual had previously been illegally residing in the country. It increases the number of available so-called diversity visas, which are awarded by random selection in select countries to promote immigration from places that don’t otherwise send many immigrants to the US. The legislation proposes creating a commission composed of employers, labor unions and civil rights advocates to make recommendations on improving worker verification. The measure would also increase protections for immigrants who come forward to report labor violations and increase penalties for employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers.
The bill would address root causes of migration and work to crack down on smugglers and narcotics and trafficking networks. It would seek to create legal and safer pathways for migration by setting up refugee processing in Central America and would create a $4 billion investment plan in the region. Rather than Wall building, the measure will focus on enhancing technology and infrastructure at the border, like enhanced screening at ports of entry.