The sweeping immigration reform bill aims to provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in the United States, thought to affect an estimated 11 million people.
Potential for Reform
President-elect Joe Biden apparently plans to push the ground-breaking legislative package as soon as he steps into the White House this Wednesday.
The incoming administration will focus on diminishing citizenship wait times, from the current period of 13 years to eight. Gone are the harmful times of the ‘America First’ policy; immigration advocates have been rejoicing at what is now being described as the “most aggressive” immigration reform the country has ever seen- potentially.
In this first glimpse of Biden’s immigration agenda, a polar opposite approach can be seen to the oppressive policies imposed by the Trump administration. For many, the legislation represents the epitome of the American dream, ending the Trump-induced mindset that immigrants are criminals through words that emphasized ‘illegalities’ in all immigrants.
As part of the plans, immigrants would be eligible for legal permanent residence status after five years, and three years after that, full citizenship will be awarded.
The sensationalised coverage of crimes led to the administration inflicting stricter work visa regulations and green card restrictions. Beyond illegal immigration, Trump characterized legal immigrants as potential terrorist threats, leading to his attempt to ban refugees and travellers from several Muslim nations.
Since Trump’s very first campaign speech in June of 2015, there has been a strong link wrongly portrayed between immigration and crime: “He referred to Mexican immigrants as rapists, criminals and drug dealers,” as highlighted by David Nakamura from the Washington Post.
Marielena Hincapie from the National Immigration Law Center, highlighted the change, “This really does represent a historic shift from Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda that recognizes that all of the undocumented immigrants that are currently in the United States should be placed on a path to citizenship.”
President Trump fuelled international condemnation when his administration separated more than 5,000 children from their parents at border control sites. Inhumane conditions and lone child deportations are part of a twisted system that today still sees thousands of children unaccounted for and separated from their parents.
The proposed legislation, which is expected to be addressed to Congress within Biden’s first days of presidency, highlights these atrocities in the current American system. The bill will also provide a quicker route to citizenship for thousands of people with temporary protected status and recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) – including vital essential workers.
Hope for Undocumented Immigrants
The current DACA policy allows young unauthorized immigrants to remain in the country with a temporary permit, allowing them to study and work in the U.S. While this system has been a lifeline for many young people, it provides no pathway to permanent citizenship.
Despite the program providing opportunities for thousands of refugees, the Trump administration consistently tried to end DACA, claiming it was unconstitutional. Most children involved, known as ‘Dreamers, are from Latin America.
In June of this year, the Supreme Court defined Donald Trump’s moves to cancel the DACA scheme as unlawful.
Vice President-elect, Kamala Harris, has been one of the driving forces behind the momentum change. In an interview with Politico, Harris spoke of the meaning behind the legislation: “It’s a smarter and much more humane way of approaching immigration.”
As Donald Trump creeps closer to his impeachment trial, major U.S employers are backing the so-called ‘Dreamer’ program. Google has announced their support by offering to pay the application fees of young immigrants seeking employment, currently $495 per applicant.
Senior vice president of Google, Kent Walker, voiced his approval: “We will support efforts by the new Congress and incoming Administration to pass comprehensive immigration reform that improves employment-based visa programs.”
Big questions remain on the timing of the bill due to the coronavirus pandemic. Is it right for an expansive immigration bill to take precedence over an emergency coronavirus recovery package, and how long will the process take?
Although the bill has come with a wave of positivity, it won’t be successful unless issues are addressed beforehand. Major logistical issues threaten the bill, including the backlog of people heading towards the border in anticipation of the end of Trump’s presidency. Huge numbers of people congregating at the borders could put many in danger as the pandemic continues.
Amongst the positivity surrounding Biden’s plans, the administration has been avoiding one major point- not everyone will qualify, including people currently waiting at the border, meaning Biden’s “most aggressive” reform will still leave a large amount of immigrants without legal status.
The United States has had a toxic relationship with immigration and understandably, eliminating the deeply rooted immigration injustices won’t happen overnight. The layers of a system intensified under previous administrations but weaponised under Trump upheld a reputation of inhumane force that thrived off neglecting the needs of vulnerable people.
This welcomed bill, if handled appropriately in the current climate, will potentially pave a way for public change. In the context of the pandemic, alongside increased levels of migration at the border, the strain on infrastructure must be handled first. Unless these issues are addressed, there may not be new hope just yet for those who seek safety and a new life in the US.
[Header Image: Associated Press]