US President-elect Joe Biden plans to unveil a sweeping immigration bill on the first day of his administration, hoping to provide an eight-year path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million people who had infiltrated into the country and live there without legal status — in a massive reversal from the Trump administration’s stringent 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 favoured 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. Biden has been unperturbed by the fact that most of these ‘immigrants’ either entered the US by fraudulent means or overstayed after their visas lapsed or they sneaked into the American territory through its border with Mexico.
It may be recalled in this context that Mexico had deported more than 300 Indians back to India in October 2019 for attempting to illegally sneak into the US via Mexico. As many as 311 Indians were sent back to India escorted by 74 Mexican officers on chartered flights. Many of them had spent lakhs of rupees bribing some Mexican authorities to let them walk through a forest to infiltrate the US.
Under the proposed legislation, those living in the US as of 1 January 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 fulfil other basic requirements. From there, it’s a three-year path to naturalisation, if they decide to pursue citizenship.
For some immigrants, the process would be quicker. So-called Dreamers, the young people who arrived in the US 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.
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.
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.
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.