On Thursday, House Democrats introduced the “U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021,” a legislative package that follows through on President Joe Biden’s campaign promises and a proclamation from his first days in office.
The centerpiece of the bill is the earned path to citizenship for the 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the United States prior to January 1, 2021. If eligible, people would have temporary status for a period of 5 years, plus 3 years of processing before gaining citizenship. Dreamers, refugees with Temporary Protected Status (TPS), and agricultural workers would be eligible to apply directly for green cards.
The 353-page legislation also includes the following:
- Employment-based Changes: Employment-based immigrant visas increase to 170,000 per fiscal year, plus a pilot program through the Department of Homeland Security that would match up to 10,000 foreign workers to industries with labor shortages. As well, the legislation eliminates the per-country quota for employment-based green cards and provides work authorization for H-1B visa holders’ dependents.
- Migration at the Southern Border: The “United States Strategy for Engagement in Central America,” a 4-year and $4 billion plan, would address issues ranging from domestic violence and abuse to drug trafficking in the region. Funding would support technology systems at ports of entry, and infrastructure and personnel at the border.
- Family Unity: Legislation has the potential to quadruple the allocation of immigrant visas for US citizens’ noncitizen children per year, and a shift from a fixed-cap on family-sponsored visas to flexible percentages. The bill also defines “permanent partners” with the same status and privileges as spouses to ensure equal benefits for LGBTQ+ families.
- Increased Availability: Increases for diversity visas from 55,000 to 80,000 annually, and the cap for family-based immigrant visas from 7% to 20% and would eliminate the per-country cap on employment-based immigration.
In a statement, President Joe Biden said, “The legislation I sent to Congress will bring about much needed change to an immigration system where reform is long overdue. These are not Democratic or Republican priorities — but American ones. I’ve laid out my vision for what it’ll take to reform our immigration system and I look forward to working with leaders in Congress to get this done.”
The bill is sponsored by Rep. Linda Sánchez, (D-CA), the chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ immigration task force. Rep. Sánchez said the plan “preserves our values, … strengthens our economy, and provides fair protections for immigrants and communities.”
New Jersey Senator, Bob Menendez, will be the bill’s sponsor in the Senate, where it is already facing early opposition.
The US has not passed a major citizenship bill since 1986. This bill, if passed, would be the most significant update to the US immigration system since the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. It is expected to pass in the House, where Democrats have the needed majority, and in the Senate, it will need the support of all 50 Democrats and 10 Republicans.