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April 2021, Volume 27, Number 2

Biden: Immigration Reform

President Biden fulfilled a campaign promise and encouraged Congress to enact the US Citizenship Act of 2021. The 353-page USCA would offer an eight-year path to US citizenship for 11 million unauthorized foreigners in the US by January 1, 2021, but not increase enforcement at the border or inside the US, a departure from past immigration reform proposals that combined more enforcement with legalization.

The USCA would grant currently unauthorized foreigners work and residence permits and make them ?lawful prospective immigrants,? After five years, LPIs could apply for regular immigrant visas by paying any back taxes owed and passing background checks. After three more years, LPIs could apply to become naturalized US citizens.

Over 60 percent of unauthorized foreigners have been in the US at least a decade, about 7.5 million are in the US labor force, and the unauthorized have four million US-born children. An estimated 40 percent of the unauthorized foreigners entered the US legally and overstayed visas.

The USCA would allow the 600,000 foreigners who are protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Dreamers) program and the 400,000 who have Temporary Protected Status in the US to become US citizens within three years. Section 1105 of the Senate version of the USCA, the Agricultural Workers Adjustment Act, would allow unauthorized farm workers who did at least 2,300 hours or 400 days of farm work in in the five years before enactment to receive legal work and residence visas, and their spouses and children would also be eligible for work and residence visas.

Unlike bipartisan immigration reform bills approved by the Senate in 2006 and 2013, Biden?s USCA does not include funding for more border agents nor require employers to use E-Verify to check the status of new hires.

The USCA aims to address the root causes of migration in Central America with $1 billion a year in aid. New in-country programs would allow Central Americans to apply for asylum without having to travel to the US, and the USCA would encourage US employers to recruit more guest workers in Central America. Safe-third country agreements with Central American countries that allow the US to return asylum seekers who passed through them to apply there would be ended.

Biden promised to increase the number of refugees admitted to 125,000 a year, and to speed up asylum procedures. Biden notified Congress that the US would admit 62,500 refugees in FY21.

The USCA would increase legal immigration by ?recapturing? unused visas from previous years and exempting spouses and children of immigrants from immigration quotas for particular countries, so that more Indian IT workers sponsored by US employers could immigrate.

The USCA would allow the spouses of H-1B visa holders to work in the US. Foreigners who earn PhDs from US universities in STEM fields, science, technology, engineering and mathematics, would be exempt from immigration quotas if they wished to become US immigrants.

Outlook. Representative Linda Sanchez (D-CA) and Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) are leading efforts to enact the USCA in the House and Senate. They and other Democrats want to vote on comprehensive immigration reforms to legalize almost all of the 11 million unauthorized foreigners in the US, but acknowledge that Democrats may have to settle for piece-meal reforms that provide a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients, TPS holders and farm workers.

The House in March 2021 approved two bills, the American Dream and Promise Act (HR 6) by a vote of 228-197, and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act (HR 1603) by a vote of 247-174. The ADPA would put up to two million Dreamers, who are unauthorized foreigners who arrived in the US before age 16, as well as 300,000 foreigners in the US with a TPS status, on a path to become immigrants and US citizens.

The Dreamers would have to enroll in college for at least two years, serve in the military at least two years, or work in the US at least three years to become immigrants. Perhaps a million unauthorized farm workers could become immigrants by doing farm work for four to eight more years, depending on how long they have been in the US.

Nine Republicans supported HR 6 and 30 supported HR 1603; most Republicans denounced both bills as amnesties that would aggravate ?Biden?s border crisis,? reducing the chances that they would be approved by the Senate. The USCA is scheduled to be considered by the House Judiciary Committee in April 2021.

Democratic activists want comprehensive immigration reform that legalizes most unauthorized foreigners in the US, but they do not want more enforcement of immigration laws.

In the mid-1980s, the compromise that led to IRCA involved legalization for the unauthorized and sanctions on employers to discourage illegal migration in the future. In 2021, advocates argue that legalization must be accompanied by new and enlarged guest worker programs, the so-called ?future flow? option.

Trump. President Trump made over 400 changes to immigration policies, mostly via executive order. Some historians considering Trump?s legacy rank him with James Buchanan, who was president just before the Civil War between 1857 and 1861, based on indicators such as integrity, intelligence and the president?s relationship with Congress.

Trump was the first president to be impeached twice. Many of those who credited Trump for tax cuts, deregulation policies, and judicial appointments were less favorable after Trump refused to accept the results of the November 2020 election and inspired the mob that invaded the Capitol January 6, 2021.

The abiding picture of Trump is likely to be his failure to deal effectively with Covid and his refusal to accept the results of the 2020 election. After Lincoln was elected in 1860, Buchanan allowed seven states secede from the US.

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