Posted on February 19, 2021

Democrats Unveil Biden’s Immigration Bill, Including an Eight-Year Path to Citizenship

Rebecca Morin, USA Today, February 18, 2021

Lawmakers and White House officials unveiled sweeping immigration legislation Thursday, including a proposal for a path to citizenship for roughly 11 million migrants living without legal status in the USA.

“We’re here today because last November, 80 million Americans voted against Donald Trump and against everything he stood for. They voted to restore common sense, compassion and competence in our government, and part of that mandate is fixing our immigration system,” Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said in a virtual news conference.

The plan is based on the comprehensive immigration legislation proposal President Joe Biden introduced on his first day in office.

The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 includes: an eight-year pathway to citizenship for nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants; a shorter process to legal status for agriculture workers and recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program; and an enforcement plan that includes deploying technology to patrol the border.

The bill calls for $4 billion over four years “to confront corruption, enhance security and foster prosperity” in migrant communities.” It lays out a plan to create refugee processing in Central America to discourage migrants from trying to travel to the U.S.-Mexican border.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., in the House of Representatives and by Menendez in the Senate.


Passing one large immigration package will be a challenge. Several lawmakers have noted they will try to push through legislation that has already passed in the House, along with the legislation for Biden’s proposal.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., didn’t offer specifics Thursday about the legislative strategy. Democrats are weighing whether to keep the policy proposals in one large legislative package or try to enact individual elements of it in a piecemeal approach.

“How it happens through the legislative process remains to be seen,” Pelosi said. “But it is a priority, and we will be working on it.”

Some Republicans criticized the legislation for not including more to address border security.

“The left wants to fund this border security around the Capitol, but they don’t want to fund a border wall at our southern border,” Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., said in an interview on Fox News Thursday. {snip}

Other Republican lawmakers said it’s not the right time to introduce immigration legislation as the nation grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“No! This is not the right time and certainly not the right set of policies,” Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, wrote in a tweet Thursday. “Let’s focus on those Americans who are struggling right now.”

Despite some pushback, Menendez said he has had conversations with Republican colleagues on the legislation and some have expressed interest in portions of the bill.

For example, Menendez said, Republicans from states with a large agriculture community expressed interest in parts of the legislation that would affect farmworkers. Republicans from states with a large technology industry are interested in the portions of the bill that address visas.


The new legislation outlines that the process for citizenship for undocumented immigrants would start with five-year temporary status, then they would be able to apply for a green card, which they would have for three years before being able to apply for citizenship. Only undocumented immigrants who were in the USA by Jan. 1, 2021, would be eligible for the legalization process.

DACA recipients, those with temporary protected status as of Jan. 1, 2017, and farmworkers would be able to directly apply for a green card.

In regards to security, the bill calls for enhancing technology infrastructure at the border for more robust screening at ports of entry to detect contraband and criminal activity.

The last time comprehensive, bipartisan immigration legislation was brought up in Congress was in 2013, and a comprehensive immigration overhaul hasn’t passed in more than 30 years.


Though activists praised the bill, they warned lawmakers and the Biden administration that it will be difficult to pass with bipartisan support. Some activists suggested that the Senate filibuster would have to be abolished to pass the legislation.