Biden Announces Big Immigration Law Changes, Part 2

By Andrew Leonatti on January 25, 2021

President Joe Biden announced an end to Trump-era hard-line immigration policies on his first day in office. That includes throwing his support behind a legislative overhaul of U.S. immigration laws, something former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama were unable to pull off during their administrations.

As we noted in a previous post, Biden signed a series of immigration-related executive orders in the early hours of his tenure. However, the following proposals must go through Congress before Biden can sign them into law. This will present a much bigger challenge.

Pathway to Citizenship

The main focus of Biden's proposed U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 is on providing a way for the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. to gain citizenship within eight years.

The bill would grant a temporary legal status for five years to most qualifying immigrants. They would then need to pass a background check and pay taxes to gain a green card. After holding a green card for three years, they would be eligible to apply for citizenship.

Beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program — undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children — would be eligible to apply for a green card immediately.

An important factor: In an attempt to prevent another surge of people crossing the southern border, only people who arrived in the U.S. before January 1 would be eligible for the pathway to citizenship.

Opening the Door to Refugees

In rolling back some Trump administration policies, Biden's proposed bill would reopen a program to reunite unaccompanied Central American children with relatives living in the U.S. The bill would also create processing centers in Central American countries to speed up refugee processing and discourage long journeys through Mexico.

The bill also would allocate billions in federal money to develop a plan to address the root causes of migration from Central America, to discourage more massive waves of border crossings.

This bill is separate from Biden's vow to increase the overall number of refugee admissions per year, which will not require Congressional approval.

Reimagining Border Security

After signing an executive order stopping the construction of Trump's southern border wall, Biden's proposed bill does seek to strengthen security along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Instead, the bill calls for additional funding to deploy new technologies to police the border, including "scanning" technologies. What that means remains to be seen, but the administration does have a goal of utilizing new technology to scan all traffic — passengers vehicles, commercial trucks, and freight cars — crossing the border.

Other Changes in the Bill

Biden's bill also contains a host of other changes to immigration law, including:

  • Increasing the number of diversity visas available per year from 55,000 to 80,000
  • Eliminating the three- and 10-year bans that keep immigrants from re-entering the U.S. after living here illegally
  • Increasing the number of employment-based and family-based visas and changing quota systems so that family members can come to the U.S. faster
  • Granting work permits to spouses and children of temporary work visa holders
  • Exempting doctoral graduates in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields from visa limits to encourage them to move to the U.S.
  • Limiting the ability of the president to keep immigrants out of the U.S., such as Trump's "Muslim ban"

What Do These Proposals Mean for You?

At the moment, the proposals outlined above remain simply proposals. With a U.S. Senate evenly divided between Republican and Democrat members, the bill is unlikely to pass without significant changes. Republicans are already coming out in opposition to the bill.

If attempts to pass legislation stall, the Biden administration will likely turn to more executive orders to make changes where they can. This highlights the constantly changing nature of immigration laws here in the U.S. If you have family abroad who wish to come here, or if you want to reside legally in the United States, the first thing you should still do is speak with an immigration attorney.

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