His project presents an opportunity to make America a safer, stronger and more prosperous country.
President Joe Biden has put forward a compelling and humane immigration reform bill. America will be safer, stronger and more prosperous with a fair immigration system that facilitates family reunification and recognizes and empowers the economic contribution of immigrants.
The mandate is not easy, but it is not impossible. Its central purpose is to create a gradual path to citizenship for those undocumented individuals who meet certain requirements. The process could take eight years, first with the granting of a temporary permit, then permanent residency and finally citizenship for those who have arrived in the country before January 2021.
Among the first beneficiaries of the reform would be “the Dreamers,”* who came to the country as children by decision of their parents, and those under temporary protected status. Family reunification would also be a priority; provisions that discriminate against LGBTQ people, or based on religious affiliation, would be eliminated.
In an effort to prevent abuses by arbitrary presidents, Biden’s bill also establishes limits on presidential authority to enact future bans that discriminate against gender or religious minorities and increases the number of visas available to increase diversity.
Instead of building walls, the reform proposes measures to manage the southern border in a responsible and intelligent manner. At the same time, it proposes to address the root causes of immigration in immigrants’ original countries. The plan proposes investing up to $4 billion in certain Central American countries in order to mitigate the desperate flight of part of their population. It also stipulates respecting the human rights of migrants, but in no way proposes opening the border to anyone who wants to come to the country.
The bill could benefit as many as 11 million undocumented immigrants; in reality, the Pew Center estimates that there would be as many as 7 million people who have lived here for more than a decade, have children who are citizens by birth and have a work history. But as the bill goes to Congress for debate, the Biden administration has an immense job ahead of it to repair the ill-intended mess left by his predecessor.
In his four years in office, Donald Trump profoundly altered the system through which foreign nationals can obtain visas to come to the United States. He did so through executive orders, presidential proclamations, new rules and regulations, all without the approval of Congress.
Trump’s officials deliberately made it harder for green card holders to qualify for citizenship. Under Trump, what was once an agency built to facilitate immigration, jobs and travel to the United States, shifted its focus to keeping people out. It is up to Biden to change the leadership and staffing of the Department of Homeland Security and immigration related agencies, in addition to establishing a fair and effective system.
Politically, the bill faces serious difficulties in becoming law because it needs the vote of both houses of Congress to pass. It requires the support of at least 60 senators; this means it needs at least 10 Republican votes to pass.
In my view, it is very encouraging that the United States is following Colombia’s example of compassion and efficiency in its plan to integrate Venezuelan immigrants. If they succeed, both will be safer, stronger and more prosperous countries.
*Editor’s note: The term “Dreamers” is based on never-passed proposals in Congress called the DREAM Act that would have allowed these young immigrants to remain in the U.S. if they met certain criteria.
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