After 1 year of Biden, what about immigration reform?
During his 2019 election campaign, President Joe Biden promised that he would fight to change immigration laws and offer a path to US citizenship for millions of immigrants living in the United States illegally.
His tone was very different from that of his predecessor Donald Trump, who imposed measures to stop the arrival of immigrants and to eliminate immigration relief that benefited migrants in the United States.
Biden celebrates one year in the White House this Thursday and that immigration reform has not happened, despite the fact that the Democrats enjoy a slim majority in both the Senate and the Lower House in Washington. So why hasn’t immigration reform become a reality?
ACTION ON THE FIRST DAY
On his first day in the White House, Biden proposed a bill to offer an eight-year path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants. The legislative package is called the US Citizenship Act of 2021.
The plan, which was introduced to Congress in February, has not been voted on in either the Senate or the Lower House.
According to Marielena Hincapié, director of the National Immigration Law Center, an immigrant rights organization, Biden’s proposal was not voted on, in part, because approving hundreds of millions of dollars in financial aid was prioritized to stimulate the economy, hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The US Citizenship Act of 2021 also ran into opposition from the Republican Party.
In the US Senate, made up of 100 senators, 60 votes are needed to end debate on any bill and bring that bill to a vote. The Democrats – the party whose majority of members speak in favor of immigration reform – do not reach 60 votes if they do not have the support of Republicans who also vote in favor of the measure.
The Democrats have 50 senators and Vice President Kamala Harris, who is speaker of the chamber.
After Biden came to power, immigration agents began to record a sharp increase in immigrants arriving irregularly at the southern border of the United States. The arrival of so many migrants was a political setback for Biden, who began to be criticized for his handling of border policies and lost popularity.
Instead of taking on the president’s huge proposal, the lower house passed two less ambitious bills in March. One was to open a path to citizenship for young people known as “Dreamers” and for migrants who fled wars or natural disasters in their home countries.
Dreamers are young people who were brought to the United States illegally as children by their relatives. The bill to help them is called the American Dream and Promise Act. It also proposed helping migrants with the so-called Temporary Protection Status or TPS, temporary immigration relief.
According to official figures, some 3.6 million “Dreamers” live in the United States. Trump ended an immigration relief program for them, known as DACA, in 2017. After several court battles, young people who were protected by the program can renew their membership, but applications to the program are no longer accepted for the first time. time.
It is estimated that approximately 320,000 migrants with TPS live in the United States, many of them from El Salvador and Honduras. Trump tried to end the program but several lawsuits in the courts stopped him.
A second bill in the House last year proposed similar protections for an estimated one million farmworkers living illegally in the United States.
Both plans — the one for “dreamers” and TPS and the one for farmworkers — were never voted on in the Senate, due to Republican opposition.
Similar efforts have occurred several times in the last few decades, but they always fail in Congress because immigration is such a divisive issue. The last immigration reform occurred in 1986 and helped approximately 2.5 million immigrants to gain permanent residence.
In September, Democrats included protections for unauthorized immigrants in a massive $1.75 trillion “Build Back Better” welfare spending bill.
The legislative package was approved by the Lower House but is stalled in the Senate.
The Democrats propose in it to offer the possibility that some 6.5 million immigrants who have resided in the country without authorization since 2010 can apply for temporary work permits.
The Democratic Party wants to use special rules in the Senate that would allow them to vote on the legislative package by a simple majority, rather than trying to get the required 60 votes.
However, Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough has said, on three separate occasions, that the immigration reform elements contained in the package should be taken out of it. MacDonough says Democrats would violate Senate rules by using the legislative package to help immigrants.
AND NOW THAT?
Pro-immigration reform groups are calling on Democrats in Congress to ignore the congresswoman, since she only recommends, and vote for “Build Back Better” using a simple majority system in the Senate.
Marielena Hincapié, the director of the National Immigration Law Center, believes that if the Democrats do not fulfill their promises to achieve immigration reform, they will lose many voters in the legislative elections this year.
“We have not seen President Biden or Vice President (Kamala) Harris use their political capital and their knowledge of how the Senate works to deliver on the promise they made in their campaign,” Hincapié said. “On issues of (immigration) legislation, we have not made any progress. This has been the area where the administration has fallen short.”
Alejandro Mayorkas, secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security, said this week that immigration reform remains a priority for Biden.
“He has continued in the fight for that legislative reform and continues in it,” Mayorkas said during a White House conference with Hispanic media. “We remain hopeful and continue to fight for the legislative action this country needs to finally fix a broken (immigration law) system.”