With a new administration and a new Congress, the effort to reform our nation’s outdated and dysfunctional immigration laws and procedures has begun in earnest.
On February 18, 2021, the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, the bill championed by the Biden administration, was introduced in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The bill is the opening bid in the immigration reform process, and includes provisions that already have bipartisan support, including allowing those who entered as children who now have Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, individuals with Temporary Protected Status (TPS), and farmworkers who are essential to our food supply chain, to apply for permanent residency.
The bill would also allow other undocumented individuals shut out of any path to a green card under current immigration laws to seek temporary status that would lead to residency and then citizenship over eight years, enabling them to fully participate in our society, where they are already integral members of our workforce and economy.
The bill is a long overdue recognition of the urgent need to revamp the nation’s immigration laws, which are completely out of sync with the nation’s demographic and economic realities. Whether it passes, or whether smaller, more targeted bills advance, such as the Dream Act, that would legalize those with DACA and others who arrived in the U.S. as children, or the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, a bill with support from both the United Farm Workers union and agribusiness, it’s imperative that federal immigration reforms are enacted this year to ensure that the U.S. continues to have a robust workforce, vibrant communities, and a growing economy.
Here are some highlights of the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021. It would:
- Create a path for undocumented individuals living in the U.S., after passing criminal and national security background checks and payment of applicable fees, to receive “lawful prospective immigrant” status, along with their spouses and children. With that status, they can legally work and travel, and after five years, after further background checks and proof of payment of all income taxes, they could get permanent residency (the “green card”). Three years later, they could apply for U.S. citizenship.
- Raise annual numerical ceilings on employment-based immigration and take other measures to speed up the immigration process for professional level immigrants.
- Improve the U.S.’s ability to attract professional level doctoral students in most STEM fields by easing their path to permanent residency after completing their degrees, and to attract temporary specialized occupation foreign H-1B visa workers by codifying in statute that their spouses and minor children of working age can legally work.
- Authorize a pilot program to allow for regional employment-based immigration for economic development.
- Prioritize family unity through various changes that will end the often lengthy separations of permanent residents and U.S. citizens from their immediate family members, including their spouses, children, adult children, parents and siblings, due to processing backlogs or wait lists (for example, at this writing unmarried adult children of permanent residents or naturalized U.S. citizens from Mexico have been waiting more than 20 years to reach the top of the wait list to immigrate).
- Direct funding and programming to address root causes pushing immigrants from Central America to flee their countries and seek asylum in the U.S.
- Create new opportunities for those fearing persecution in western hemisphere countries to apply for refugee status and resettlement from within those countries.
- Reform and direct resources to the asylum processing system to remove barriers to applying for asylum, reduce processing backlogs, and allow earlier issuance of work permits to asylum applicants.
- Take multiple steps to improve due process for immigrants interacting with the immigration court system and to reduce immigration court backlogs.
- Create new initiatives and provide grant funding to promote immigrant integration efforts and programs at the state and local levels, including funding for English language instruction, workforce development and economic integration efforts, and citizenship instruction.
- Direct funds towards infrastructure and technology for border security.
- Replace the term “alien” with the term “noncitizen” in the immigration and nationality statutes.