President Biden’s Immigration Proposal: What You Should Know

Changes to immigration are underway as President Biden begins his first 100 days in office. If/when enacted, these changes will affect millions of immigrants and modify existing policies.

The Biden administration is moving swiftly to effect change post-Trump. Below, we break down what these significant changes could mean for you and any loved ones currently residing in the U.S. as immigrants.

Pathway to Citizenship

As the Biden administration makes headway on crucial immigration policies, many changes have yet to be approved. One such proposal involves streamlining the pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants. The bill would provide a five-year path to permanent residence with a three-year wait for naturalization. Agricultural workers and people under DACA are the most affected groups under the proposed legislation.

Currently, about 600,000 immigrants have temporary permission to live in the United States under DACA. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, was put in place by former President Barack Obama and allows certain people who immigrated to the U.S. as children to request consideration for deferred action. Deferred action means that the individual will not face deportation for a certain period of time, as determined by the prosecutor. To date, DACA has allowed thousands of immigrants to continue residing in the U.S. with work authorization; however, it does not automatically lead to resident status or citizenship.

The new pathway to citizenship will likely start with DACA. The bill has not yet passed through the House of Representatives and the Senate, and the razor-thin Democratic majority in both houses will likely lead to an uphill battle. Many lawmakers are proceeding with caution as the first steps toward immigration reform are taken over the next few weeks. Further changes to immigration are also on the table for lawmakers in the upcoming year.

Bars and Legal Immigration

Current immigration laws prevent immigrants who accrue unlawful presence in the U.S. and then leave from returning lawfully. Unlawful presence does not have an explicit definition in the regulations. However, it is generally understood to mean an immigrant who enters the U.S. without an inspection or overstays their admission period. As it stands, individuals who accrue more than 180 days of unlawful presence are barred from re-entering the United States for up to three years. Immigrants who accrue more than one year are barred for ten years.

The new bill would reverse the three and ten-year bars. This would be a monumental step in allowing qualifying immigrants to pursue legal status. The application process for green cards is complicated, and many applicants are required to apply from outside the United States. Eliminating these restrictions would allow many immigrants to pursue green cards and be with their families. For immigrants who may be subject to these bars and are otherwise eligible, change is hopefully on the way.

Recapture and Reduce

The existing immigration channels are not efficient due to millions of unused visas, green card backlogs, per-country caps, and convoluted application processes for permanent residents' children and spouses. President Biden's new proposal features significant changes to the immigration system that will, hopefully, remove these problems and expedite legalization.

One goal of the bill is to recapture millions of visas that have not been used and reduce the green card backlog. As of April 2020, the backlog is at a grand total of 592,322. India alone has a backlog of nearly 400,000 green cards. One contributing factor to the backlog and wasted visas is the per-country caps limiting the number of application approvals. Green cards allow immigrants to work, study, and live in the United States. Getting a green card is incredibly complicated, and current immigration laws do not encourage efficiency in the system.

U.S. immigration has four pillars: family reunification, admittance to immigrants with valuable skills to the U.S. economy, refugee protection, and diversity. The issues with visas and green cards inhibit the country's ability to stand by the four pillars. Many immigrants with valuable skills are unable to come to the U.S. due to the backlog, and family members cannot be united with their loved ones. The Biden administration hopes to provide actionable changes to relieve these pain points in the immigration system with a bill that covers not only the immigration process but also enforcement and border security.

Immigration Enforcement

Since 2003, the government has spent an estimated $333 billion on agencies to carry out immigration enforcement. These agencies enforce immigration in two sectors: the border and interior. Under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency covers border security at critical entry points. The interior enforcement agency is also under the DHS and is responsible for enforcement within U.S. borders. ICE, in particular, has been at the forefront of immigration enforcement for several years.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency is responsible for enforcing immigration policy inside the United States. Their duty is to apprehend criminals, seize illegal substances, and remove individuals they deem to be a threat to national safety. However, many lawmakers and activists have questioned the need for massive increases in ICE staffing under the previous administration. The drastic increases in funding for ICE and other agencies are prime examples of the emphasis on enforcing security versus the few measures to protect immigrants. President Biden’s new immigration plan includes stopping excessive spending on ICE. The plan also includes checks on ICE’s power. Overall, the President’s vision for immigration has a greater emphasis on policy than enforcement.

The Big Picture

As the country moves forward into the Biden Presidency, all eyes will be on lawmakers to establish necessary and long overdue immigration changes. President Biden's approach will focus on policy over enforcement, a welcome deviation from previous immigration proposals.

Overall, the bill is comprehensive and brings to light many of the issues immigrants face in attempting to enter the United States. These changes are an important first step toward a more efficient and fair immigration system.

Keeping You Updated

Milla & Associates, LLC attorneys are committed to helping immigrants and their families achieve their American dream. In the coming weeks and months, we are likely to see significant changes occurring in immigration legislation, both proposed and actual. Throughout it, we will be here to provide our readers with updates on what these changes could mean for them.

If you have questions about how the new immigration bill could affect you, contact Milla & Associates, LLC.