(CNN) — The White House on Thursday announced a comprehensive immigration bill that would create an eight-year path to citizenship for millions of immigrants already in the country and provide a faster path for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States when they were children.
The legislation faces an uphill climb in a tightly divided Congress, where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has just a five-vote margin and Senate Democrats don’t have the 60 votes needed to pass the measure with just the support of your party.
Administration officials argued late Wednesday that the legislation was an attempt by President Joe Biden to restart a conversation about reforming the US immigration system and said he remained open to negotiation.
“He was in the Senate for 36 years, and he is the first to tell you that the legislative process can look different the other side of where it begins,” said an administration official in a call with reporters, adding that Biden would be “willing to work. with Congress ».
The effort comes about because there are several separate bills in Congress aimed at overhauling smaller parts of the country’s immigration system. Senators Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, and Majority Leader Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, for example, have reintroduced their DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for immigrants who came to the country illegally. when they were kids.
Administration officials said the best way forward and plans to pass a bill or split it into multiple parts would be up to Congress.
“There are things I would take care of on my own, but not at the expense of saying, ‘I’m never going to do that.’ There is a reasonable path to citizenship, “Biden told a CNN forum in Milwaukee on Tuesday.
“The president is committed to working with Congress to engage in conversations on the best way forward,” said an administration official.
Officials did not say whether they believed that the reconciliation process, a special budget tool that applies only to a specific subset of legislation and allows the Senate to pass bills with a simple majority, would be applicable to an immigration bill. “It is too early to speculate on this at this point,” said one official.
The Senate is working to pass the president’s coronavirus relief legislation through reconciliation. The expectation is that the administration could also use the process to pass an infrastructure law.
Biden’s immigration bill will be introduced by Democrats Bob Menendez of New Jersey in the Senate and Linda Sanchez of California in the House.
This is what the bill includes, entitled US Citizenship Law from 2021:
Plan a path to citizenship
The legislation goes beyond the last effort in 2013 by reducing the time to acquire citizenship to eight years instead of 13, according to an administration official.
First, people would be in a temporary state for five years, with three years until they obtain citizenship, which is equivalent to an eight-year trajectory.
There is an exception for undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children, for those under a form of humanitarian aid known as Temporary Protected Status, or for those who are farm workers. Those people can go straight to green cards if they meet the requirements, including passing background checks.
To be eligible for the bill’s legalization plan, immigrants must have been in the country before January 1, 2021.
Change of terminology
Biden’s proposed bill, if passed, would also remove the English word “alien” from US immigration laws, replacing it with the term “noncitizen” (“non-citizen”). The change, said an administration official, is “to better reflect the president’s values on immigration.”
The United States code it currently defines “alien” as “any person who is not a citizen or national of the United States.”
Officials in the past have pointed to the prevalence of the term in American law to defend their word choices.
But the term “illegal alien,” long criticized as a dehumanizing insult by immigrant rights advocates, became even more of a lightning rod during the Trump era, with some top federal officials encouraging its use and several states and local governments taking steps to ban it.
The bill would exempt certain categories from counting in the annual caps. For example, spouses, partners, and children under the age of 21 of lawful permanent residents would be exempt from the limits.
The bill also provides funding to US Citizenship and Immigration Services to reduce the backlog of asylum applications.
Changes in the legal immigration system
The bill provides funding for more immigration judges and places an emphasis on access to an attorney. It authorizes the funding of lawyers for children and vulnerable people and removes the one-year limit for filing an asylum case.
The measure would also revoke bans on re-entry into the United States if a person had previously been residing illegally in the country.
Increases the number of so-called diversity visas available, which are granted by random selection in selected countries to promote immigration from places that would not otherwise send many immigrants to the U.S. The bill would increase the number of visas granted annually from 55,000 to 80,000, according to an administration official.
The legislation proposes the creation of a commission made up of employers, unions and civil rights defenders to make recommendations on how to improve verification of workers, according to an administration official. The measure would also increase protections for immigrants who come forward to report labor violations and increase penalties for employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers.
Invest in the United States-Mexico border and in Central America
The bill would address the root causes of migration and work to address them, for example by cracking down on smugglers and drug and trafficking networks. It would seek to create legal and safer pathways for migration by establishing refugee processing in Central America and would create a US $ 4 billion investment plan in the region.
“It will be developed in a bipartisan manner, first, but it will also require the countries of the region to reaffirm their commitment to corruption, invest their own resources and take action to reform their systems,” said an administration official.
The measure also includes improving technology and infrastructure at the border, such as better control at ports of entry.
CNN’s Catherine Shoichet contributed to this report.