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Biden to Provide Citizenship Path for 11M Immigrants

One of the first actions of the Biden Administration will be the proposed U.S. Citizenship Act, which would provide an 8-year road map to citizenship for approximately 11 million immigrants currently in the U.S.

(TNS) — Hours ahead of Joe Biden's inauguration, incoming White House officials released more details of the president-elect's ambitious legislative proposals on immigration reform, including a pathway to U.S. citizenship for an estimated 11 million people and a series of executive actions, among them an immediate stop to construction of fencing along the southern border.

The incoming administration described its package as a common-sense approach to modernizing and restoring humanity to the immigration system following four years of President Trump's systematic crackdown on both legal and illegal immigration.

The U.S. Citizenship Act, which officials said will be sent to Capitol Hill on Inauguration Day, offers an eight-year road map to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants in the United States without legal status. If approved, it would prioritize three categories of people to immediately receive green cards: farm workers, those with temporary protected status and beneficiaries of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as Dreamers, who were brought to the U.S. as children.

To qualify, immigrants must have entered the U.S. no later than Jan. 1. The secretary of the Department of Homeland Security may make an exception to the Jan. 1 presence requirement and grant a waiver for family unity and other humanitarian purposes if an immigrant was deported on or after Jan. 20, 2017, and was physically present for at least three years prior to removal.

The proposed overhaul also includes an expansion of refugee admissions, an enforcement plan deploying increased surveillance- and enforcement-related technology along the border, and increases in per-country visa caps.

Although many advocates of immigrants celebrated Biden's move, some longtime immigration experts cautioned that the bill would probably not make it into law in its current incarnation, if at all.

Roberto Suro, a public policy professor at USC who has followed immigration issues for decades, said that the bill probably would be stymied and take a back seat to other top priorities: a raging pandemic, economic recovery, impeachment procedures and Cabinet confirmations.

"This is his opening bid to a long process. Nobody expects this to be the final bill," Suro continued. "If enacted — and that is a big if — reality will be much different. The reality will be what it takes to get 10 Republican votes in the Senate and that's going to cost."

Biden's plan would grant millions of immigrants an interim status for five years, including work authorization and the ability to travel abroad, followed by green cards if they pass background checks and pay taxes. Three years after becoming permanent residents, they could apply for citizenship.

The bill also includes provisions to address the root causes of migration. It funds a $4 billion, four-year interagency plan to increase assistance to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, conditioned on their governments' ability to reduce the corruption, violence and poverty causing people to flee.

And it establishes designated processing centers throughout Central America where people can register for refugee resettlement and other lawful migration avenues, such as the Central American Minors program, an Obama-era program discontinued by President Trump that aimed to reunite children with U.S. relatives.

Incoming White House officials said the legislation prioritizes "smart" border controls by authorizing additional funding to increase technology that can expedite screening and scan for narcotics and other contraband. The funding would also go toward safety and professionalism training for border patrol agents and more special agents at the DHS office who are charged with addressing criminal misconduct by employees.

Officials did not say how much additional money would be authorized, how soon that could take place or whether any would be allocated to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for enforcement operations beyond the border regions.

The bill would recapture unused visas, eliminate lengthy wait times, increase per-country visa caps and increase diversity visas — which allow randomly selected people from countries with relatively limited immigration to the U.S. — to 80,000 per year from 55,000. It would offer work permits to dependents of H-1B work visa holders and allow immigrants with approved sponsorship petitions to join family in the U.S. while they wait for green cards to become available.

It would also eliminate the one-year deadline for filing asylum claims and raise the cap on U visas for victims of certain crimes to 30,000 from 10,000 per year.

In immigration courts, the legislation would expand discretion for judges to review cases and grant relief, expand training for judges, improve technology and fund legal counsel for children and particularly vulnerable immigrants.

And the bill would replace the word "alien" with "noncitizen" in immigration laws, a symbolic but significant move away from a classification that immigrants have long considered dehumanizing.

Officials said Biden will simultaneously announce a series of executive actions to expand DACA, end Trump's 2017 travel ban targeting Muslim-majority countries, extend temporary deportation protections for Liberians and immediately pause wall construction, as well as investigate the legality of the wall funding and contracting methods. He will also repeal Trump's executive order that did away with priorities for immigration enforcement and made all immigrants targets for deportation.

Suro, of USC, said the bill probably will not see congressional floor action until at least the fall or beginning of 2022.

"All of a sudden we are looking at the midterm election where the House hangs in the balance and the Senate as well," he said. "Any Republican who is up in 2022 or 2024 who votes for any kind of legalization is guaranteed to face a primary challenge from the Trump wing of the party. And they all know that."

©2021 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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