Biden immigration reform bill gives faster path to citizenship

    Protesters in front of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexanders offices on West End in 2017. (Photo: John Partipilo)
    Protesters in front of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexanders offices on West End in 2018. (Photo: John Partipilo)

    President Joe Biden sent a sweeping immigration reform bill to Congress on his first day in office, and immigrant-advocacy groups have been preparing individuals for a faster path to citizenship.  

    “Today ushers in a brighter, more hopeful future for immigrants and refugees. After four years of harsh immigration policy under Trump, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are prioritizing building a fair, humane immigration system that benefits all of our communities on Day One of their administration,” said Lisa Sherman-Nikolaus, executive director at Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) Wednesday in a press release. 

    Lisa Sherman-Nikolaus, incoming executive director, TIRRC (Photo: TIRRC)
    Lisa Sherman-Nikolaus, incoming executive director, TIRRC (Photo: TIRRC)

    Biden’s proposed immigration bill, called the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, would provide a faster path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. 

    In stark contrast to Donald Trump administration’s hard line policies, the bill proposes limiting presidential authority from issuing bans based on religion and increasing the diversity visa program (a program that randomly selects people for obtaining permanent residency) from 80,000 to 55,000, which the Trump administration sought to eliminate altogether. 

    The Trump administration made citizenship more difficult for undocumented people, including a failed attempt to remove protections from Defered Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipients. Families were also often separated due to a three to 10-year bar from reentry into the U.S. after unlawfully residency, and green-card applicants needed to apply for residency from their home country. This included individuals married to U.S. citizens and permanent residents. The Biden Administration seeks to overturn this by allowing individuals  to reside with approved family sponsors in the U.S. while awaiting their green cards. 

    TIRRC has been preparing an estimated 13,000 DACA recipients to apply for the DACA program and eventually citizenship under the Biden administration. Biden’s immigration proposal also seeks to provide funding to state and local governments and immigrant-advocacy groups to facilitate assistance to those seeking to become citizens. Under the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, DACA recipients would immediately receive green cards and be able to apply for citizenship after three years. The Biden Administration has yet to release details as to who is eligible or when DACA recipients will be eligible to receive green cards.

    “Now it is time for President Biden to deliver on his promises to immigrant families who were constantly attacked under the Trump Administration. DACA exists because immigrant youth organized a powerful movement to fight for our protection, and we are ready to do it again for ourselves and our loved ones.,” said Jazmin Ramirez, community organizer at TIRRC.

    While providing paths to citizenship, the bill also seeks to add protections for workers, reduce trafficking at the U.S. border and address the root causes of immigration, such as providing assistance to troubled Latino countries while continuing to support asylum seekers. 

    While the proposal will need to be approved by Congress, it would immediately protect millions from being deported. With Democrats controlling the presidency, the House and the Senate, advocacy groups are hopeful for a permanent immigration reform facilitating citizenship. 

    “It’s time to deliver permanent protections for our communities so all families feel safe and have opportunities to thrive,” said Ramirez.