Citizenship After 8 Years Is Promise of Democratic Immigration Bill

With no bridge to conservatives on enhanced security measures, the Democrats’ bill shoulders the new administration’s ambition to undo the protectionist policies of the last one.

A child plays at a camp for asylum seekers stuck at America’s doorstep, in Matamoros, Mexico, on Nov. 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Congressional Democrats formalized their immigration-reform plans Thursday with the introduction of a measure that could put some 11 million immigrants on an eight-year track to U.S. citizenship.

Congresswoman Linda Sanchez of California introduced the bill known as the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 in the House this morning. At a corresponding virtual press conference, the legislator framed the move as an upgrade from an “outdated, broken-down” immigration system to “one that preserves our values, that strengthens our economy and provides fair protections for immigrants in our community.”

Sanchez said her family background was one reason she was proud to support the plan based on an agenda laid out by President Joe Biden on his first day in office

New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, who will introduce the bill in the other chamber of government next week, also spoke at the event, defending the bill’s sweep. 

“We have an economic and moral imperative to pass big, bold, inclusive immigration reform. Reform that leaves no one behind,” Menendez said.

Both Sanchez and Menendez are the U.S.-born children of immigrants, their families hailing from Cuba and Mexico, respectively.

Proposing the most extensive changes to immigration law in over 30 years, the U.S. Citizenship Act envisions an eight-year track for undocumented immigrants living in the United States as of Jan. 1, 2021. Qualifying applicants would first obtain a green card following five years of provisional status and can then apply for citizenship three years later.

Appearing in a virtual press conference on Thursday, Democratic lawmakers and their aides talk about the introduction to the House of a bill called the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021. (Image courtesy of CSPAN, via Courthouse News)

In addition to replacing the term “alien” with “noncitizen” in U.S. laws, other changes include providing expedited paths to citizenship for farm workers and recipients of the program known as DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals; raising the ceiling on the number of family- and employment-based visas available; and providing more money for processing asylum applications and new port-of-entry technology on the U.S. southern border.

Given how big a factor safety plays in migration, the bill asks for $4 billion over the next four years, as well, to fight corruption in Latin America.  

Growing transnational anti-drug task forces in Central America is another feature of the Democrats’ bill, which would also abandon the existing penalty that says undocumented immigrants who have left the United States must wait three to 10 years before they can return.

With its lack of security-enhancement measures sought by conservatives, however, the bill is certain to face a rocky reception in Congress. Republicans are largely opposed to the plan, but the Democrats would need at least 10 GOP members on board to avoid a filibuster when the evenly split Senate votes on the bill.

Biden has remained committed to creating reforms to support undocumented immigrants living in the country and bringing back a broader approach to the nation’s refugees and asylum programs, speaking favorably of the agendas just this past Tuesday at a CNN town hall.

At the beginning of February, he called for major reforms to the country’s asylum programs as his administration began work to reunite the thousands of families separated at the border as a result of former President Donald Trump’s hardline immigration agenda. Biden has signed multiple executive orders regarding immigration in what is the beginning of a long slog to undo the more than 400 immigration-related executive actions taken that Trump made in just one term. One signed by Biden last week will allow about 25,000 asylum-seekers in Mexico entry into the U.S. starting Friday while their cases await adjudication.

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