Updated Feb 18, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Democrats to unveil sweeping Biden-backed immigration bill

Joe Biden standing on a stage holding his face mask

Joe Biden. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) will introduce Biden's immigration bill Thursday, which includes an eight-year pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) will introduce the bill in the Senate next week.

Why it matters: The bill is unlikely to win needed Republican support, but represents the aggressive immigration priorities of President Biden. It will also kick off the immigration debate on Capitol Hill, which could lead to less sweeping immigration reforms.

What to watch: The bill introduction is likely to spark debate over other immigration bills that touch on parts of Biden's plan, but are more palatable with a 50-50 split Senate.

  • For example, there is bipartisan support for the Dream Act, which was introduced again by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and would provide a pathway to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.
  • Immigration advocates also see potential to pass pathways to citizenship for the hundreds of thousands of Temporary Protected Status holders and immigrant farmworkers.

What they're saying: On a call with reporters Tuesday evening, senior administration officials would not specify whether the White House supported using budget reconciliation to try to pass the bill with a simple majority in the Senate.

  • When asked about a piece-meal approach, one official said that DACA, TPS and immigrant farmworker populations "are important, but we also need to fix the entire system so we have a functioning fair and humane system."

Details: The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 is a broad bill, providing green cards and pathways to citizenship for so-called Dreamers, Temporary Protected Status holders and undocumented immigrant farmworkers.

  • It would give funds to Central American countries to address root causes of immigration of asylum seekers to the U.S.
  • The bill ends per-country caps for employment-based green cards and allows for more family-based green cards by exempting spouses and minor children of lawful permanent residents from the visa cap.
  • The bill would also replace the term "alien" in federal immigration laws with "noncitizen," a change already being implemented in Biden's administration.
  • It would limit the power of presidents to issue bans, like former President Trump did when he barred immigrants from several Muslim-majority nations.
  • The bill proposes to set up refugee processing in Central America to provide humanitarian assistance while preventing surges of asylum seekers at the border.
    • The asylum crisis in Central America has already weighed heavily on countries like Colombia, which would be impacted by the bill's plan to "share the burden."
  • The legislation notably does not include specific funds for border security enhancements — a minimum requirement for most Republicans.
Go deeper