After four years of xenophobic and racist attacks on immigrants under the Trump administration, President Biden has made clear that rebuilding our immigration system is going to be a priority. On the first day of his presidency, he unveiled a comprehensive immigration plan and issued a series of executive orders that will begin to undo some of the worst acts of the previous administration.
What you need to know about the U.S Citizenship Act of 2021
- Is a progressive immigration bill that will create a roadmap to citizenship for 11 million undocumented people currently living in the United States. Under the bill, people who are undocumented and who were in the U.S. on or before Jan. 1, 2021, will be able to immediately apply for temporary legal status. After five years, they will be able to apply for green cards. Three years after that, they will be eligible to become citizens. DREAMers, people with temporary protected status, and farmworkers will be eligible to apply for green cards immediately.
- Will help keep families together by building on and improving the family-based immigration system. In addition to clearing backlogs, reducing wait times and recapturing unused visas, it will eliminate inherently racist per-country caps. The bill also eliminates discrimination against LGBTQ families by explicitly including permanent partners as family members.
- Includes the NO BAN Act which prohibits discrimination based on religion in immigration and limits the ability of presidents to ban entire communities without any accountability.
- Provides funding for programs that help immigrants and refugees join in our communities and become citizens.
- Protects children and families and improves immigration courts. The bill would expand family-based case management programs and provide funding for programs that help immigrants understand the legal system and fund legal representation for children and other vulnerable people. (Under the previous administration, toddlers were ordered to appear in court alone.) It will reintroduce fairness to the immigration courts by allowing immigration judges the discretion to review cases and make individualized decisions.
- Protects immigrant workers by making it easier for them to get U visas – a special type of visa for victims of crimes – and protecting immigrant victims of workplace retaliation from deportation.
- Takes steps to address the root causes of migration by increasing assistance to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, while also creating designated processing centers throughout Central America to register and assist displaced people in seeking refugee resettlement or other migration options.
- Provides protections for border communities by creating a Border Community Stakeholder Advisory Committee, providing more agents to investigate criminal and administrative misconduct by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agents and officers, and providing training and continuing education to promote agent and officer professionalism and safety.
- Does not increase enforcement, unlike previous immigration bills. It does, however, include funding for technology to expedite screening and improve the identification of narcotics and other contraband at all ports of entry into the United States.
What you need to know about the immigration executive orders
President Biden also issued a series of executive orders to:
- Reinstate and strengthen protections for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients and other DREAMers so that people who were brought to the United States as children can live and work in the United States without fear that they will be deported.
- Reverse the Muslim and African bans, which under the Trump Administration banned people from seven Muslim majority countries in the Middle East and Africa from coming to the United States. These bans had enshrined religious and racial discrimination while separating families.
- Freeze deportations for 100 days (with a few exceptions) while the DHS conducts a comprehensive review of enforcement priorities.
- Stops border wall construction by ending the national emergency declaration that had been used to justify using funding that had been authorized for the military and other sources to build the wall.
- Reinstate protections for Liberian immigrants so that they will not be deported and are authorized to work in the United States.
Just the beginning
The Biden-Harris administration has listened to the multiracial, multiethnic and multigenerational group of directly impacted immigrants and other activists, advocates and community organizers. For that, we are grateful. The SPLC Action Fund has called for these reforms to be enacted. But even as we celebrate this win, we must be prepared for the long road ahead. Reversing Trump policies is not enough. Proposing legislation is not enough.
We must all work to rebuild our immigration system so that it is just, humane and functional. And we must pass the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021. We have the support: A poll conducted by Fox News on Election Day found that 71% of American voters believe that undocumented immigrants should be able to gain legal status.
Let’s celebrate, but then let’s hold the Biden administration and our members of Congress accountable. They must move quickly to enact the relief our immigrant communities, neighbors, colleagues and friends need. We won’t settle for half measures and we won’t leave anyone behind.
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