We have good news out of Washington — President Biden has answered the call of millions of Americans who demand a just, humane and functional immigration system and introduced the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021. This bill would reverse harmful anti-immigrant policies enacted over the past four years and outlines a path to citizenship for millions of immigrant families, among other urgent priorities.
Why do we need to reform our path to citizenship?
First, to legally live in the U.S., immigrants must obtain a green card or a visa. This process can take years or even decades since a backlog is built into the system. Yearly green card issuances are capped at around 1 million, and there are limits on most types of green cards, including limits on the number of people who can come from each country. Many visas are also capped.
After being granted a green card and establishing residency in the U.S., people who are immigrants must wait another five years to apply for citizenship. Spouses of U.S. citizens must wait three years.
Many people don’t realize how complex the path to citizenship is, or how long it can take. For many, there is no path at all. In January 2021, someone from Mexico who was not married and is the child of a U.S. citizen became eligible to apply for a green card 23 years after they first applied. For someone who was married, the wait was 25 years. And for many others who don’t have immediate family members who are U.S. citizens, there is simply no path to citizenship currently available.
What is it like to be someone who is undocumented in the United States?
Marco, whose name was changed to protect his privacy, is an immigrant from Cuba and a client of the SPLC’s Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative (SIFI). After being physically and mentally abused by police in Cuba for staging pro-democracy protests and criticizing the Castro regime, Marco fled.
Since he arrived at an official port of entry at the border and established a credible fear of returning to his home country, Marco was eligible for parole. But in Mississippi, everyone was denied parole. On Aug. 21, 2019, Marco was shackled, cuffed and shoved into a bus that took him 12 hours away to Stewart Detention Center in rural Georgia. In September 2019, Marco sent the necessary paperwork to U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for his parole consideration. ICE ignored his request.
Being locked up in an immigrant prison after seeking asylum in the U.S. was worse than the abuse he left behind in Cuba, he said. “Being detained was the cruelest thing that ever happened to me,” he said. “I became so desperate for my release that I couldn’t see the light.”
“ICE visited us a lot, just to tell us our only option was deportation, deportation, deportation,” he said. “They hold our parole in their hands, and tell us we will be deported, that we have no chance.”
In January, SIFI secured Marco’s release, leaving him free to pursue his immigration case from Miami, where he currently lives with friends.
What will the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 do to help immigrants?
- It creates a roadmap to citizenship for up to 11 million members of our communities throughout 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 followed by the opportunity for an eight-year path to citizenship;
- It allows DREAMers, people with temporary protected status, and farmworkers to apply for green cards immediately;
- It 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 includes the NO BAN Act, which prohibits discrimination based on religion in immigration and limits the ability of presidents to ban entire communities;
- And, many more essential priorities. Millions of undocumented women, men and children languishing in our broken and harsh immigration system cannot wait any longer. Contact your members of Congress today and urge them to support the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021.
Thank you for being a part of our movement for immigrant justice.