Democrats Introduce Sweeping Immigration Bill With Eight-year Pathway to US Citizenship

Democrats on Thursday introduced a sweeping immigration bill backed by President Joe Biden, but the legislation faces an uphill battle in the closely divided Congress, with lawmakers already suggesting a piecemeal approach might win more bipartisan support.

The US Citizenship Act of 2021 will reflect priorities outlined by the president in an executive order on his first day in office. 

The bill’s lead sponsors — Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif. — unveiled the legislation in the Senate and the House.

The proposed bill, among other provisions, would:

  • Establish an 8-year path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who arrived in the US by January 1
  • Provide an expedited path to citizenship for farmworkers and undocumented young people who arrived in the US as children with temporary protected status under DACA
  • Replace the word “alien” with “non-citizen” in law
  • Raise the per-country caps on family and employment-based legal immigration numbers
  • Repeal the penalty that prohibits undocumented immigrants who leave the country from returning to the US for between three and ten years
  • Expand transnational anti-drug task forces in Central America
  • Increase funding for technology at the southern border
  • The path to citizenship would give undocumented immigrants five years of provisional status, after which they could apply for a green card. Three years later, they could apply for citizenship.

DACA-protected undocumented immigrants and farmworkers who can provide work history could skip the five years of provisional status and have green card eligibility.

On his first day in office, Biden signed an executive action terminating the state of emergency at the southern border, declared by former President Donald Trump, and pausing border wall construction projects.

While Democrats hold thin majorities in both Congress chambers, the legislation would require a minimum of 10 Republican votes to defeat a Senate filibuster and move the bill to a vote.

“I know that many are thinking, does the bill have any chance of passing with 60 votes? And the answer is, we won’t know until we try,” Menendez said at a press briefing Thursday.

“We know the path forward will demand negotiations with others. But we are not going to make concessions out of the gate,” Menendez said.

Sanchez suggested Democrats are open to a piecemeal approach in addition to a comprehensive package.

“We are pursuing an ‘all of the above’ strategy,” Sanchez said at the news conference. “All options are on the table, and we hope to pass robust immigration reform, but there are other great immigration bills that we also will be taking up and hopefully passing as well.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., praised the legislation and suggested a piece-by-piece approach, CNBC reports.

“I salute the president for putting forth the legislation that he did. There are others that support piecemeal, and that may be a good approach too,” Pelosi said a press briefing Thursday.

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