President-elect Joe Biden is on course to unveil an immigration bill on the first day of his administration, hoping to provide an eight-year path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million people living in the United States without legal status.
The legislation puts Biden on track to deliver on a major campaign promise important to Latino voters and other immigrant communities - a huge reversal from the Trump administration's harsh immigration policies and mass deportations.
Biden’s proposal will set up a processing programme abroad for refugees seeking admission to the US and a push toward using technology to monitor the border.
The policy provides one of the fastest pathways to citizenship for those living without legal status of any measure in recent years. Nonetheless, it fails to include the traditional trade-off of enhanced border security favoured by many Republicans, putting passage in a narrowly divided Congress in doubt.
It does address some of the root causes of migration from Central America to the United States, and provides grants for workforce development and English language learning.
As a candidate, Biden called Trump’s actions on immigration an “unrelenting assault” on American values and said he would “undo the damage” while continuing to maintain border enforcement.
Under the legislation, those living in the US as of January 1, 2021, without legal status would have a five-year path to temporary legal status, or a green card, if they pass background checks, pay taxes and fulfil other basic requirements. From there, it's a three-year path to naturalisation, if they decide to pursue citizenship.
“There are many issues I think we can work cooperatively with President-elect Biden, but a blanket amnesty for people who are here unlawfully isn’t going to be one of them,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, often a central player in Senate immigration battles.
Biden is expected to take swift executive actions to reverse other Trump immigration actions, including an end to the prohibition on arrivals from several predominantly Muslim countries.
During the Democratic primary, Biden consistently named immigration action as one of his first-day priorities, pointing to the range of executive powers he could invoke to reverse Trump’s policies.
Biden allies and even some Republicans have identified immigration as a major issue where the new administration could find common ground with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and enough other GOP senators to avoid the stalemate that has vexed administrations of both parties for decades.
A major win here, even if it involves compromise, could be critical for Biden. He’ll also be seeking legislative victories in a Congress where Republicans are very likely to oppose other Biden priorities, like rolling back some of the GOP’s 2017 tax cuts and increasing federal spending.
Democrats will control the 50-50 Senate with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote. Democrats currently control the House 222-211, with two vacancies.