President Joe Biden announced Thursday a sweeping immigration bill 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. It’s a very different approach to immigration from the previous administration, and the bill looks to address everything from root causes that lead people to seek asylum in the US, to terminology that dehumanizes immigrants, and even funding so immigrants have access to legal counsel.
The legislation faces an uphill climb, however, since Senate Democrats don’t have the 60 votes needed to pass the measure with just Democratic support. So, bipartisan changes to the bill are inevitable.
“The President is committed to working with Congress to engage in conversations about the best way forward,” one administration official told CNN.
Here’s some of what the bill, titled the US Citizenship Act of 2021, includes:
A Wider Pathway to Citizenship
The legislation cuts the time to acquire citizenship to eight years instead of 13. People would be in a temporary status for five years, then take three years until they get citizenship.
There is 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.
Changes In Terminology
Biden’s proposed bill would remove the word “alien” from US immigration laws, replacing it with “noncitizen.” The change, an administration official said, is “to better reflect the President’s values on immigration.” Humanitarian rights groups have long said the government use of the term “illegal alien” has led to discrimination and de-humanization of refugees and migrants.
Changes to the Legal Immigration System
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.
It also 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.
Border and Central America Investment
The bill would address root causes of migration and work to tackle them by, for example, cracking 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.
“It will be developed in a bipartisan manner, first of all, but it also will require countries in the region to reaffirm a commitment to corruption, to invest their own resources and take action to reform their systems,” an administration official said.
The measure also includes enhancing technology and infrastructure at the border, like enhanced screening at ports of entry.