Pro/Con: Biden’s Immigration Reform Bill

Does the US Citizenship Act of 2021 adequately address current issues regarding immigration?

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Photo by Lenin Nolly

CASA in Action held a rally to support the Immigration Reform bill on Jan. 27, 2021, at the National Mall in Washington DC, USA. PHOTO BY LENIN NOLLY/SIPA USA

Pro:

by Rachel King

With thousands of visa seekers stranded at the US-Mexico border and many more living in the US with no legal status, it is no secret the immigration system needs reform. Unfortunately, because of differing opinions among Democrats and Republicans regarding immigration, no reform bills have been passed. 

The US Citizenship Act of 2021, Biden’s immigration reform bill, is an attempt to deal with fundamental issues regarding immigration and to reverse some unethical steps taken by the previous administration. The bill has aspects that would be helpful in limiting wait times, keeping families together and improving the situation at the US-Mexican border; however, it will need to be implemented in smaller parts to make change. 

In the immigration system that stands, migrants are forced to wait an absurd amount of time to simply have their application on their legal status in the country reviewed. This is mainly because the maximum amount of visas and green cards that are allowed per country, known as “per country caps,” cause people to have to wait for availability. There are also caps on the reason for immigrating, such as for a job or to reunite with family. 

The problem with these caps in that they are not need-based, so while many migrants from other countries have to wait an average of six years for a green card, people from Mexico have to wait over 21 years due to the volume of Mexicans trying to immigrate to the United States, according to the Migration Policy Institute. With wait times like these, it is no surprise people are trying to get into the country illegally. The Trump administration was trying to end illegal immigration by implementing a zero tolerance policy that caused children to be separated from their families in 2018, and putting restrictions on green cards and visas issued for asylum seekers and refugees. These policies failed to address the root causes of illegal immigration that I mentioned above, and therefore were completely ineffective. 

Biden’s new immigration bill will eliminate per-country caps for employment-based immigration, which bolsters the economy and will make the process faster for those who want to stay in or come to the US for work, as well as recapturing unused visas. The bill also plans to adjust the green card maximum based on macroeconomic conditions. A flexible cap on immigration based on current conditions, both economic in the US and in the country of origin would be the best way to move forward and limit wait times. Funding will also be provided to the immigration courts to provide more judges to review cases and create legal orientation programs, which would also speed up the process. 

To reunite families, visas will allow people to stay in the US on a temporary basis while they wait for a green card. The bill also makes an effort to eliminate the misconduct that occurs at the US-Mexican border by funding training for border patrol officers and issuing protocols for how to care for those in custody. It is crucial the United States treats these immigrants as people and preserves the human rights that many of their home countries are depriving them of. 

Many illegal immigrants risked their lives to get to the United States, and many died trying. Illegal immigration needs to be discouraged, and I believe that making legal immigration more accessible will do just that. Giving undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship like the bill proposes is unfair to those that waited their turn and will encourage people to come into the US illegally, since it sets the precedent that one can still gain legal status by breaking the rules. This major fault of the bill needs to be discussed further before implementation. 

Immigration is an issue of ethics and morals, and while the US Citizenship Act of 2021 may not be perfect, it brings up reforms that would be good stepping stones for a more efficient immigration system. Democrats need to realize that reform and change come gradually, so imposing this bill in its entirety may scare away moderates and Republicans. However, we must keep these issues in the spotlight and keep implementing small reforms and parts of the bill step by step. The lives of many people depend on it. 

Con:

by Sara Miyaki-Singer

Activists bring attention to Obama’s record deportations during a protest in Philadelphia on July 10, 2019. PHOTO BY BASTIAAN SLABBERS/NURPHOTO VIA GETTY IMAGES

In a country composed of and built by immigrants, it is ironic that immigration has become such a controversial subject. Both sides of the political spectrum have drastically different ideas and policies on immigration, making the topic a key issue in political races.

President Biden, in one of his first legislative proposals, outlined a bill that would change many systems put in place by the Trump administration, including increasing refugee protections, reuniting families that were separated and implementing new technology along the border for protection. 

The central tenet of the plan is the pathway to citizenship, which would allow undocumented immigrants to achieve citizenship within eight years. It would also give new undocumented immigrants temporary status for five years and allow them to apply for green  cards once they meet a certain unspecified criteria. For recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), also known as Dreamers, they would be allowed to apply for a green card immediately. The plan would also require immigrants to have been in the US by the start of 2021 to stop any mass migration through the border. 

President Biden has signed nine executive orders concerning immigration. They review laws that make it hard for people to access the legal immigration process, defund “sanctuary cities,” end construction of the border wall, reaffirm protections for Dreamers, end the travel ban and extend a program that protects Liberian immigrants. 

Democrats have a thin majority in the House and will likely need Republican support in the Senate to pass any form of immigration bills. A similar bill was being pushed in 2013 but failed, and the Republican party now includes more immigration hardliners than there were when Obama was president. In its current state, the bill is unlikely to pass as several moderate Democrats and a majority of Republicans are unlikely to support it.

Rather than promoting the bipartisanship and unity that he promised, one of President Biden’s first major actions is already causing divisiveness and controversy. His key promise on the campaign trail was to work with the GOP, but so far, he is failing to do that as the only people who seem to be working on the bill are seven progressive Democrat congresswomen. There aren’t enough people with different ideas who are working on this bill, and Democrats and Republicans will need to work together for the well being of the American people, rather than continue to be divided.

If this bill passes without much bipartisan support, there is a high possibility the next Conservative administration will try to undo it, which will cause chaos and not help anyone. We have already seen this with the Obama and Trump administrations as Obama implemented the Dreamers Act, and Trump completely shifted the US’ foreign policy by trying to implement strict laws on border control, which in the end did nothing but divide us. 

This bill is also very vague and fails to explain how it will implement measures to ensure border security. There is a lack of information concerning the type of technology that will be used to protect the border and how it would really help. It fails to mention if there will be any change in the number of policemen at the border, which is crucial, as they are the ones who enforce these laws.

Additionally, many Conservatives claim the bill is too lenient on illegal immigrants, which could cause a surge in criminal activity along the border. In 2019, there were 4,269 arrests of individuals resulting in criminal convictions as opposed to 12,842. If the crime rate has significantly gone down, why change the foreign policy that ensures it decreases?

The constant change and division about foreign policy in this country will further cause illegal immigrants to be seen as a political issue that can be tampered with, rather than as real people. Unlike how many politicians think of them, these immigrants are not just an issue but are millions of people who desperately need help, yet they are put aside for the two party’s political games.

Although the bill is very ambitious and seems to want to help those in need, it needs to outline how it will ensure border security and protect those living along the border from potential criminal activity. There also needs to be an explanation for how all of these policies will benefit the country in the long run in order for the bill to pass. 

Due to the primary focus being on the pandemic, the bill is still in its early stages, so not all of the details have been provided. However, the lack of bipartisanship in planning this bill, especially in a time where it is needed to pass other important bills such as for Covid relief, contradicts Biden’s key promises and halts any real progress that can be made in this country.