Joe Biden to propose 8-year citizenship path for immigrants

The incoming president plans to unveil a sweeping immigration bill on a momentous first day

FILE - In this Oct. 27, 2020, file photo, then-Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at Mountain Top Inn & Resort in Warm Springs, Ga. President-elect Joe Biden has evoked Franklin Delano Roosevelt in promising a remaking of America unseen since the New Deal. Pledging to emulate some of the loftiest reforms in the nation’s history has left him with towering promises to keep. And Biden hopes to deliver against the backdrop of the pandemic and searing national division. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

US president-elect Joe Biden plans to unveil a sweeping immigration bill on the first day of his administration, hoping to provide an eight-year path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million people living in the US without legal status.

The move will be a massive reversal of President Donald Trump's harsh immigration policies.

Mr Biden would be on track to deliver on a major campaign promise important to Latino voters and other immigrant communities after four years of Mr Trump’s restrictive policies and mass deportations.

It provides one of the fastest pathways to citizenship in recent years, but it fails to include the traditional trade-off of enhanced border security favoured by many Republicans, making passage in a narrowly divided Congress in doubt.

Expected to run to hundreds of pages, the bill is to be introduced after Mr Biden takes the oath of office on Wednesday.

As a candidate, Mr Biden called Mr Trump’s actions on immigration an “unrelenting assault” on American values and said he would “undo the damage” while continuing to maintain border enforcement.

Path to naturalisation 

Under the legislation, those living in the US as of January 1, 2021 without legal status would have a five-year path to temporary legal status, or a green card, if they pass background checks, pay taxes and fulfil other basic requirements.

From there, it’s a three-year path to naturalisation, if they decide to pursue citizenship.

For some immigrants, the process would be quicker. So-called Dreamers, the young people who arrived in the US illegally as children, as well as agricultural workers and people under temporary protective status, could qualify more immediately for green cards if they are working, are in school or meet other requirements.

The bill is not as comprehensive as the last major immigration overhaul proposed when Mr Biden was vice president during the Barack Obama administration.

AFP presents a retrospective photo package of 60 pictures marking the 4-year presidency of President Trump.

José, 27, with his son José Daniel, 6, is searched by US Customs and Border Protection Agent Frank Pino, May 16, 2019, in El Paso, Texas. Father and son spent a month trekking across Mexico from Guatemala. 
 About 1,100 migrants from Central America and other countries are crossing into the El Paso border sector each day. US Customs and Border Protection Public Information Officer Frank Pino, says that Border Patrol resources and personnel are being stretched by the ongoing migrant crisis, and that the real targets of the Border Patrol are slipping through the cracks. - 
 / AFP / Paul Ratje

For example, it does not include a robust border security element but rather calls for coming up with strategies. Nor does it create any new guest worker or other visa programmes.

It does address some of the root causes of migration from Central America to the US and provides grants for workforce development and learning English.

Mr Biden is expected to take swift executive actions to reverse other Trump immigration actions, including an end to the prohibition on arrivals from several predominantly Muslim countries.

During the Democratic primary, Mr Biden consistently named immigration action as one of his day-one priorities, pointing to the range of executive powers he could invoke to reverse Mr Trump’s policies.

Mr Biden's allies and even some Republicans have identified immigration as a major issue where the new administration could find common ground with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and enough other Republican senators to avoid the stalemate that dogged administrations of both parties for decades.

That kind of major win – even if it involves compromise – could be critical as Mr Biden looks for legislative victories in a closely divided Congress, where Republicans are certain to oppose other of Mr Biden's priorities that involve rolling back some of the Republicans' 2017 tax cuts and increasing federal spending.

As a candidate, Mr Biden went so far as to say the Obama administration went too far in its aggressive deportations.