President-elect Joe Biden plans to unveil a sweeping immigration bill on Day One of his administration, hoping to provide an eight-year path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million people living in the U.S. without legal status, a massive reversal from the Trump administration’s harsh immigration policies.
The legislation puts Biden on track to deliver on a major campaign promise important to Latino voters and other immigrant communities after four years of President Donald Trump’s restrictive policies and mass deportations. It provides one of the fastest pathways to citizenship for those living without legal status of any measure in recent years, but it fails to include the traditional trade-off of enhanced border security favored by many Republicans, making passage in a narrowly divided Congress in doubt.
Expected to run hundreds of pages, the bill is set to be introduced after Biden takes the oath of office Wednesday, according to a person familiar with the legislation and granted anonymity to discuss it.
As a candidate, Biden called Trump’s actions on immigration an “unrelenting assault” on American values and said he would “undo the damage” while continuing to maintain border enforcement.
Under the legislation, those living in the U.S. as of Jan. 1, 2021, without legal status would have a five-year path to temporary legal status, or a green card, if they pass background checks, pay taxes and fulfill other basic requirements. From there, it’s a three-year path to naturalization, if they decide to pursue citizenship.
WINK News spoke to Faviola Vargas, who was 9 years old when she moved from Mexico to the U.S.
“My father came to the country first, and he decided this was the best option for his family,” Vargas said.
She originally moved to the country illegally, and in 2012, she applied to be a DACA recipient. That allowed her to stay in the U.S. Legally, but during the Trump presidency, her status became uncertain.
“Am I going to be able to renew it again? Am I going to be allowed to stay in this country?” Vargas explained questions that were up in the air.
Immigration Attorney Pablo Hurtado told WINK News there is often little recourse for people in Vargas’ situation.
“A lot of those folks don’t have a path even though they are part of our everyday economy,” Vargas said.
Hurtado told WINK News his phone has been ringing ever since Biden emerged as the winner of the election. Hurtado explained the immigration process in the U.S. is something that can sometimes takes decades to complete.
“There’s people that applied before 2001 that are just now filling out their last paperwork because they are finally at the front of the line,” Hurtado said.
For some immigrants, the process would be quicker. So-called Dreamers, the young people who arrived in the U.S. illegally as children, as well as agricultural workers and people under temporary protective status could qualify more immediately for green cards if they are working, are in school or meet other requirements.
“It’s bringing so much joy and relief, and it’s so rewarding to know that all this hard work has really paid off,” Vargas told WINK News.
The bill is not as comprehensive as the last major immigration overhaul proposed when Biden was vice president during the Obama administration.
For example, it does not include a robust border security element, but rather calls for coming up with strategies. Nor does it create any new guest worker or other visa programs.
It does address some of the root causes of migration from Central America to the United States, and provides grants for workforce development and English language learning.
Biden is expected to take swift executive actions to reverse other Trump immigration actions, including an end to the prohibition on arrivals from several predominantly Muslim countries.
During the Democratic primary, Biden consistently named immigration action as one of his “day one” priorities, pointing to the range of executive powers he could invoke to reverse Trump’s policies.
Biden allies and even some Republicans have identified immigration as a major issue where the new administration could find common ground with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and enough other GOP senators to avoid the stalemate that has vexed administrations of both parties for decades.
The office of Sen. Rick Scott (R) responded to WINK News after reaching out for his stance toward the Biden immigration plan.
“As he has for years, Senator Scott continues to support a long-term solution for DACA and TPS,” the office shared in a statement. “But he will not support a radical immigration agenda of amnesty and open borders. Providing a path to citizenship with no efforts whatsoever to secure the border makes no sense. It will create a permanent cycle of illegal immigration into this country that hurts hard-working Americans and the millions of immigrants who are waiting in line and going through the legal process.”
Sen. Marco Rubio.(R) shared a statement released to the press in response to the announced immigration plan.
“Before we deal with immigration, we need to deal with COVID, make sure everyone has the chance to find a good job and confront the threat from China,” Rubio said in the statement. “America should always welcome immigrants who want to become Americans. But we need laws that decide who and how many people can come here, and those laws must be followed and enforced. There are many issues I think we can work cooperatively with President-elect Biden, but a blanket amnesty for people who are here unlawfully isn’t going to be one of them.”
That kind of major win — even if it involves compromise — could be critical as Biden looks for legislative victories in a closely divided Congress, where Republicans are certain to oppose other Biden priorities that involve rolling back some of the GOP’s 2017 tax cuts and increasing federal spending.
As a candidate, Biden went so far as to say the Obama administration went too far in its aggressive deportations.
Barrow reported from Wilmington, Del. Associated Press writer Elliot Spagat in San Diego contributed to this report.