Posted on January 18, 2021

Democrats Ready Immigration Push for Biden’s Early Days

Laura Barron Lopez and Sabrina Rodriguez, Politico, January 15, 2021

In preparation for President-elect Joe Biden to drop a sweeping immigration reform bill as soon as he enters office, congressional Democrats and advocates are drafting legislation, taking the temperature of Republicans — and gearing up for what they hope will be the defining chapter in a decadeslong battle to pass a pathway to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants.

Biden has said he plans to “immediately” introduce an immigration bill after taking office on Wednesday. And top Latino and immigrant advocacy groups who’ve seen details of the coming package said they were stunned by the boldness of Biden’s plan.

On Thursday, Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, policy advisers and three Latino Cabinet nominees met with advocates to outline the president-elect’s immigration, coronavirus and economic agendas.

Hector Sanchez Barba, head of Mi Familia Vota, who has criticized Biden on immigration policy in the past, wouldn’t share specific details discussed in the private meeting. Still, he said, Biden’s plan “is the most aggressive agenda that I have seen on immigration reform from day one — not only the legislative package, but also executive orders.”

In the meeting, Susan Rice, who will lead Biden’s Domestic Policy Council, was adamant that the incoming administration wasn’t about to introduce comprehensive immigration reform to simply let it sit on a shelf, said Jess Morales Rocketto, executive director of Care in Action.

“We were totally floored by the immigration plan and the level of clarity,” she said.

Domingo Garcia, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said Biden’s team told attendees of the meeting the bill would give 11 million undocumented immigrants a pathway for citizenship, with an eight-year wait as a permanent resident. Biden also plans an executive order instituting a “four-year extension” of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.


And Democrats, aware of the difficulties, are split on the best way to proceed. Democratic lawmakers expect Biden’s proposal to establish a starting point. But big questions remain about what could be included in a coronavirus recovery package instead of an expansive immigration bill. Some lawmakers say they want Biden to get whatever he can get passed as soon as possible, even if it means adopting a more piecemeal approach. Others argue a true overhaul of the nation’s immigration system can only happen in one large package forcing Congress to meet the issue head-on.

Meanwhile, Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), backed by more than a dozen labor and immigrant rights groups, said he is planning to introduce legislation allowing undocumented essential workers to apply for permanent resident status. Under the bill, those workers would be eligible to apply for citizenship in five years. {snip}


Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) said a “piecemeal” approach is not an option. “The administration has a very limited window of opportunity before House members begin running for reelection,” she said. {snip}


Still, soon-to-be Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin acknowledged the dicey road ahead with a tied Senate and slim majority in the House. {snip}

“I’m not ruling out a larger bill, but I want to take it a step at a time,” said Durbin (D-Ill.), who along with Menendez, has started conversations with his GOP colleagues. “I don’t want to overplay my hand. I want to be mindful that bipartisan support is essential to victory in the Senate.”