- Patricia Sulbarán Lovera
- BBC News Mundo correspondent in Los Angeles
On his first day as head of government in the United States, Joe Biden sent Congress a proposal for immigration reform described as “the most progressive in the history” of that country.
The ambitious plan, called the US Citizenship Act, it must not only have the endorsement of the House of Representatives but also the Senate requires at least 60 of 100 votes.
Although this Wednesday’s initiative does not involve immediate action, it is seen as a crucial and important step for regularize the immigration status of more than 10 million undocumented in the country.
And a 180-degree setback to the immigration policies implemented by his predecessor, Donald Trump.
Several opposition lawmakers have already expressed their disagreement with the proposal, which promises to generate heated debates.
We tell you some of the main aspects of the bill, highlighted in a document released by the new government.
A path to citizenship for millions of the undocumented
Under the legislation, those without legal status who reside in the U.S. since before January 1 of this year could apply for a temporary residence that could become permanent (also known as green card) after five years.
From there, in three years they could begin the process to naturalize as Americans if they so wished.
Applicants will have to undergo criminal background checks, pay taxes and complete other basic requirements, the newspaper said. The New York Times.
In the United States, there are at least 10.5 million undocumented, according to an estimate made in 2017 by the Pew Center for Research.
That number represents 23% of the foreign-born population residing in the country.
Undocumented immigrants from the U.S. have been in the country an average of about 15 years, according to estimates from the Center for American Progress, a liberal research organization.
In turn, these people have more than 10 million members in their families who are not undocumented.
Special rules for ‘dreamers’ and other communities
Unlike those mentioned above, the beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (IF, for its acronym in English), those included in the temporary protected status (TPS) and farm workers “meeting specific requirements” would immediately qualify for the permanent residence.
After three years, they could also apply for naturalization.
DACA recipients, also called dreamers, are around 700,000 young people, more than 75% of them Mexican, who came to the US as children.
Last June, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of protecting young people from deportation after former President Donald Trump terminated the program in 2017.
“These are not new ideas, but the fact that they are proposing a legalization program for those who are in the country before January 1 of this year is something big and more direct than initiatives we’ve seen in the recent past, “explains Julia Gelatt, an analyst on migration policy at the Migration Policy Institute (MPI).
Visas and family reunification considerations
The bill also addresses a reform of the immigration system for families, by “eliminating long waiting times, clearing the saturation of cases to attend” and increasing the places available for families according to their country of origin.
In this framework, they will also consider that immigrants whose family requests have been approved to reunify with their relatives in the United States temporarily while waiting for the issuance of their permanent residences.
The plan also establishes a series of protections for immigrant workers who report exploitation and increases from 55,000 to 80,000 the number of diversity visas (which are drawn among people from countries whose migration rate to the US is low).
The bill also includes provisions to eliminate discrimination against LGBTQ + families and immigrants based on their religious beliefs.
A different approach to border security
This legislation proposes a different approach which has been seen in previous similar proposals.
Instead of contemplating the increase in border troops or the construction of more fences, it proposes the “deployment of technology to expedite the check and the ability to identify narcotics and other contraband “especially at ports of entry.
An improvement in infrastructure in those ports it is also part of the plan, in order to “improve the capacity to process asylum seekers” and prevent the entry of narcotics into the country.
Although the move is welcomed by activism groups and various organizations, this could be one of the most discussed points by legislators, experts say.
Investment in Central America and the “root causes” of immigration from the region
During the campaign, Biden promised to allocate US $ 4 billion over four years to “address the underlying causes” that lead citizens of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to “flee their countries.”
The plan contemplates the same figure and explains that it will work under the condition that these countries reduce “endemic corruption, violence and poverty”.
Although Biden has vowed to undo executive actions that Donald Trump took at the border, he recently asked immigrants not to venture north because policies won’t change immediately.
The statements came about a caravan, made up mostly of Hondurans, which was harshly repressed while crossing Guatemala en route to the United States.
The new government’s legislation plan promises the creation of “legal and safe channels” for asylum seekers and refugees by establishing processing centers to register and process displaced persons.
“The government will have to manage a delicate balance between sustaining and defending the asylum system without sending a message that the border is open, because that is not what the asylum law consists of, “says MPI analyst Julia Gelatt.
Biden, Gelatt adds, has the executive power to end Trump-driven programs such as the Migrants Protection Protocol, under which thousands of asylum seekers must wait in Mexico while their cases are processed.
Also, some of the considerations in the law, such as creating a program to more quickly gather to Central American families in the United States whose applications have been approved can also be implemented under Biden’s executive authority, according to the Center for American Progress.
While Democrats control both houses, the bill requires 60 Senate votes, where the Patido Democrat has 50 of the 100 seats and the tiebreaker vote of Vice President Harris.
It should be remembered that in 2013, and with a plan that has been pointed out as less progressive than this, the Obama administration did not succeed in getting its proposal to pass the House of Representatives, then dominated by Republicans.
“The plan sends a clear message that immigration is a source of growth and strength for the country,” Gelatt emphasizes.
“But Congress is unlikely to pass because the plan does not propose concessions in exchange for the system of massive legalization, “he adds, and that could produce rejection among Republicans and skeptics of progressive immigration policies.
The last time Congress, then under Democratic control, passed meaningful immigration reform that would establish a path to citizenship was in 1986, under the republican government Ronald Reagan.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.