President Joe Biden announced a comprehensive immigration bill on Feb. 18, which would create an eight-year path to citizenship for the millions of immigrants already living in the U.S. It would also put undocumented immigrants who arrive in the country as children on a faster track.
White House officials say the sweeping legislation is an attempt by the president to renew the conversation over immigration reform. They also said Biden is open to negotiation over the elements contained in his plan.
What are the main elements of the bill?
The bill, titled the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, includes:
Path to citizenship: The bill is an upgrade on the last attempt in 2013 by offering citizenship in eight years instead of 13. First, those eligible would have a temporary status for five years, followed by three years until they receive citizenship. An exception exists for undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. as children. Also, immigrants must have arrived before Jan. 1, 2021.
Updated terminology: If passed, the president’s bill would remove the word “alien” from all U.S. immigration laws replacing it with “noncitizen.” The phrase “illegal alien” is considered a dehumanizing slur against immigrants, and White House officials say the change reflects Biden’s values on immigration.
Reduced backlogs: The bill would reduce certain undocumented immigrants from counting toward annual caps, including spouses, partners and children under 21 years old of lawful permanent residents. The bill would also order the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to reduce the logjam of asylum applications.
Reformed legal system: The bill boosts funding for more immigration judges while emphasizing more access to legal counsel, especially for children and other vulnerable people. It would also:
- End the one-year limit for filing asylum cases
- Repeal roadblocks to reentering the U.S. for those who illegally resided in the country
- Increase the number of diversity visas from 55,000 to 80,000
- Create a commission to make recommendations for improving worker verification procedures
- Protect immigrants who report labor violations
- Increase penalties for employers who purposely and knowingly hire undocumented workers
Focus on the root causes of migration: The bill would invest in addressing issues affecting the U.S.-Mexico border and Central America, including cracking down on those involved in human trafficking and drug smuggling. It would set up refugee processing facilities and upgrade technology and infrastructure along the border.
Congress remains divided over approach
The White House says President Biden is committed to working with Congress to move forward on immigration and feels a comprehensive bill is the best way to address the issue. Several standalone bills – some with bipartisan support – have already been introduced.