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Biden and Congressional Democrats Introduce Legislation Creating Earned Path to Citizenship

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Welcome back to Visalawyerblog! We kick off today’s post with very exciting news. Yesterday, February 18, 2021, President Biden unveiled new legislation that will create an 8-year earned path to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States who were brought to this country as children.

While the bill faces an uphill battle in Congress, it is the start of the administration’s efforts to create new momentum to push parties on both sides of the aisle to fix our broken immigration system once and for all.


What does the new bill propose?


The new piece of legislation is based on the President’s immigration priorities as outlined during his first day in office.

While President Biden has been in office for less than one month, he is already moving forward with his most ambitious effort yet – introducing viable immigration proposals before Congress, that will counteract the past four years of harmful policies passed by his predecessor.

In a nutshell, the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, as it is known, seeks to create (1) an eight-year pathway to citizenship for nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants (2) a shorter process to legal status for agriculture workers and recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and (3) establishes an enforcement plan that includes deploying technology to patrol the Southern border.


Earned Pathway to Citizenship


Among its provisions, the bill would provide certain undocumented immigrants with a new type of temporary status that would be valid for a 5-year period and allow them to apply for citizenship after another 3 years. This 8-year proposal is an improvement from Congressional efforts in 2013 to create an earned pathway to citizenship within 13 years.

Exceptions 

Those with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), people who qualify for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) from countries suffering from war and natural disasters, and farm workers who can prove they have a work history would be prioritized to receive permanent residence (a green card), through an expedited type of processing, provided they pass background checks and meet other requirements.

This earned pathway to citizenship would only be available to those who have been in the United States since January 1, 2021. Anyone who entered the country illegally after that date would not qualify.


Increased Funding to Reduce Asylum Backlogs


If passed, the bill would also provide more funding to increase the number of immigration judges and support staff in an effort to reduce the extensive visa backlog faced by asylum seekers. Increased funding has also been proposed for lawyers to represent unaccompanied minors and other vulnerable groups of immigrants so that they have a chance of receiving due process.

Funding has also been proposed in the amount of $4 billion to be spent over a four-year period to help combat corruption and improve conditions for migrants.

Central to its provisions, the legislation seeks to discourage Central Americans from making the dangerous journey to the United States by establishing refugee processing centers throughout Central America, where vulnerable immigrants will be able to apply for asylum.

To combat crime in the region and reduce mass migration from Central America, the bill increases resources to deploy transnational gang task forces throughout the region.


Border Security


As it relates to border security, the bill proposes increasing security at ports of entry that focus on detecting drugs and other contraband. Criminal penalties for unauthorized immigrants would remain in place, including provisions that impose bars on admissibility for certain criminals such as those with aggravated felonies.


Special Provisions for Work Visas, Bars on Inadmissibility, Diversity Visa Quotas, and Visa Backlog Relief


Interestingly, the bill carves out a provision that would allow counties and municipalities to petition for additional work visas as needed by the local economy. This would allow localities to participate in a way that has been absent from previous legislation.

The bill would also end the 3 and 10-year bars on admissibility for undocumented immigrants who voluntarily leave the United States.

Separately, the number of diversity visas issued for countries with low rates of immigration to the United States would increase from 55,000 to 80,000. This is great news for countries eligible to participate in the Diversity Visa lottery program.

The bill would also reduce visa backlogs by exempting certain categories from counting toward annual caps. For example, spouses, partners and children under the age of 21 of lawful permanent residents would be exempt from the caps, making more visas available for principal applicants.

Finally, the bill also proposes removing the word “alien” from the immigration code and replacing it with “noncitizen.” The use of the word “alien” has been the subject of much controversy for decades.


What are the bill’s chances in Congress?


While Democrats do not have enough Republican support to pass the bill, it is the start of a series of long discussions by politicians, where a compromise will hopefully be reached to pass some variation of the bill that will provide relief to millions of undocumented immigrants.

As always, we will continue to post new updates on this and other pieces of legislation right here on our blog.


Questions? If you would like to schedule a consultation, please text 619-569-1768 or call 619-819-9204.


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