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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 26 February 2021

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

US president-elect Joe Biden. AP
US president-elect Joe Biden. AP

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.

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. AFP 
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. AFP 

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.

Updated: January 20, 2021 12:08 AM

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