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The Biden-Harris Administration's Proposed Immigration Bill is a Strong First Step

The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 proposes funding to support immigrant communities, permanent-resident eligibility for DACA recipients, and a new pathway to citizenship.

By Sarah Cartagena, Immigration Analyst

The United States ushered in a new political era on Wednesday when the Biden-Harris administration officially took office. The new administration immediately sent a clear, reverberating pro-immigrant message by introducing to Congress the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021—a comprehensive immigration bill—and signing numerous immigration-related executive orders.

A major highlight of the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 is that it provides a pathway to citizenship to many undocumented individuals. The bill seeks to allow tax-paying adults present in the U.S. on or before January 1, 2021, the ability to apply for temporary status, so long as they pass a criminal and national background check. After holding temporary status for five years, individuals can then apply for legal permanent residency. Once they have held their permanent residency for three years, they are then eligible to apply for citizenship.

Moreover, DACA recipients, TPS holders, and certain immigrant farmworkers who meet specific criteria will be relieved of their sociopolitical limbo and will immediately become eligible for legal permanent residency.

Another noteworthy piece of the bill is the elimination of the three- and ten-year bars of re-entry to the U.S., originally enacted as part of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRAIRA) of 1996, which have prevented individuals from applying for permanent residency and have kept many families legally and physically separated.

Other key components of the proposed legislation include new funding for state and local governments and community-based organizations to expand programs that support immigrant communities, assist with English-language instruction, and provide preparation for the citizenship test. There are also funding increases for school districts that educate unaccompanied minors, an increased cap on U-Visas for victims of criminal activity (from 10,000 to 30,000 visas), and the permanent change of the derogatory and dehumanizing term “alien” to “noncitizen” in U.S. immigration laws—an important step in reinforcing the respect and dignity that all persons deserve.

This bill is only the beginning of the legislative process. The crucial next steps are for both chambers of Congress to review it. There will likely be changes to the proposed legislation, and it will likely need significant bi-partisan support to be approved and passed.

The Forum is heartened by the Biden’s administration's swift action to fulfill several campaign promises on immigration through this proposed bill and other executive orders. The proposed legislation is consistent with the Forum’s earlier recommendations to the Biden transition team.

We hope that this is just the beginning of many transformative policies, and the new administration will remain committed to actively dismantling the immigration-criminal system that has continually and publicly violated the inalienable human rights of immigrants. This means: stopping all deportations, releasing all those who have been unnecessarily detained, providing meaningful relief to all those who have been directly impacted by anti-immigrant actions (including children who have been separated from their families), and, most importantly, putting an end to all discriminatory enforcement policies.

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