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11 million people could soon be given a path to US citizenship. Here is the situation now



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Angela Lang / CNET

Just over a week into his tenure, President Joe Biden has signed nearly 40 executive orders, reversing many of the Trump administration̵

7;s actions. So far, Biden’s executive actions have covered everything from rejoin the World Health Organization and the Paris Climate Agreement to try the travel ban aimed at Muslim majority countries.

In addition to signing an executive order to maintain and strengthen the DACA program, Biden has unveiled sweeping immigration reforms, including providing an eight-year path to citizenship for more than 11 million undocumented immigrants, when it becomes law.

The sweeping immigration bill – rightly called the US Citizenship Act of 2021 – aims to reverse and overhaul many of former President Donald Trump’s policies. Here’s what you need to know about the president’s new immigration plans and how the path to naturalization would work for millions of undocumented migrants in the US.

What is Biden’s view on citizenship?

We don’t have a physical invoice to browse yet, but it could be over 100 pages. In addition to the massive reversals of Trump’s policies, the Biden administration wants to provide an eight-year path to citizenship for the nearly 11 million unauthorized people living in the US.

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President Biden signed a pile of execution orders on his first day of work.

The White House / Screenshot by Amanda Kooser / CNET

The timeline for citizenship is quite easy to understand. Those living in the US with no legal status as of January 1, 2021 can receive temporary legal status or a green card within five years. To do this, they must pass a background check, pay taxes and meet other requirements. Millions of unauthorized immigrants already pay taxes by using an individual tax identification number. Non-legal employees generate millions of dollars for Social Security and Medicare, but are not eligible for any of the benefits associated with a Social Security number.

After that, Biden’s plan outlines a three-year path to naturalization if the person is pursuing citizenship.

It is also possible that Biden could fill out the executive order related to DACA to give the recipients of the program an even faster path to naturalization.

How Many People Are There In America Without Legal Status?

According to the Pew Research Center, approximately 10.5 million of US immigrants are unauthorized based on comprehensive 2017 US Census Bureau data. Pew also reported approximately 35 million immigrants who were naturalized citizens, 12.3 million lawful permanent residents and 2.2 million temporary legal residents.

According to The New York Times, more than 60% of unauthorized immigrants have lived in the country for more than 10 years, have more than 4 million US-born children, and represent 5% of the workforce.

It is important to note that, under the 14th amendmentany person born in the US is a citizen, regardless of the citizenship status of their parents. The Times also noted that about four in ten unauthorized immigrants have not entered the US through border crossings. Many arrived in the US on student or work visas and remained or fled violently in their home countries.

After Biden signs the executive order to ensure accurate census counts – regardless of immigration status – we may have an updated view in the future. Trump had previously signed Executive Order 13880 that aimed to exclude undocumented immigrants living in the US from the census.

How is Biden’s plan different from DACA?

Delayed Action for Children Arrivals, or DACA, only affects the children of unauthorized immigrants, known as Dreamers. Biden’s plan would include anyone living in the US with no legal status as of January 1, 2021. The Obama administration had previously introduced a kind of sister program called DAPA, or deferred action for parents of Americans and lawful permanent residents (PDF), in 2014. DAPA was intended to protect illegal immigrants with children who were US citizens or legal permanent residents by delaying deportation. Trump issued Executive Order 13768 in 2017, canceling DAPA but retaining DACA.

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Protesters expressed support for DACA when the program was attacked by the Trump administration.

Mandel Ngan / Getty Images

However, Biden’s plan would provide a new path to citizenship whether or not someone has children. The Citizenship Act of 2021 provides protection for a wide variety of immigrants.

Biden’s plan would include:

  • DACA dreamers
  • Temporary protected status holders
  • Immigrant agricultural workers
  • Orphans, widows, children
  • Filipino veterans who fought alongside the US in World War II
  • Immigrants with approved family support positions to temporarily join their families in the US
  • Asylum seekers (the bill aims to abolish the one-year period for submitting asylum applications)
  • Other vulnerable populations such as U visas, T visas and VAWA visa applicants
  • Foreign nationals help US troops

What would have to happen next for Biden’s plan to take place?

Biden has only submitted the bill. In order to become law, legislation still has to go through the right channels. Both Democrats and Republicans agree that Biden’s reform bill is a huge undertaking, but Biden has also said he is willing to push the bill into pieces through Congress.

New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez said that despite the initial Republican setback, a two-pronged deal is possible. It is also necessary. While the Democrats have the Senate majority, the chamber has a 50-50 split, which could mean resistance on one big bill. This also means that we can see fragmented legislation.

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A few hours after his inauguration, Biden implemented sweeping immigration reforms.

Saul Loeb / Getty Images

How is Biden’s approach to immigration different from Trump’s?

Immigration policy is not new. Lawmakers have been creating and discussing them since the country’s childhood. However, the new government is more focused on the policies of the past decade.

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How it started: Trump dealt a crippling blow to the DACA program in 2017 when Attorney General Jeff Sessions said no further applications would be considered. The future of countless recipients became uncertain. The Supreme Court ruled in June 2020 that Trump could not end the program with a restricted vote allowing 800,000 Dreamers to remain in the US.

How are you: Biden signed a memorandum entitled Preserving and Strengthening Deferred Action for Child Arrivals on Jan. 20. The action orders the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Attorney General to legally strengthen and protect the program.

Muslim travel ban

Biden’s legislation would also overturn Trump’s executive order that imposed discriminatory travel bans on most Muslim countries.

Mark Wilson / Getty Images

Muslim travel ban

How it started: Trump issued a series of executive orders banning travel and resettlement of refugees from selected Muslim-majority countries, including Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The restrictions were extended to more countries in 2018 and 2020. Like the government’s attacks on DACA, the travel bans came under legal scrutiny from civil rights organizations such as the ACLU. In 2018, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the third draft of the decision.

How are you: Biden signed the proclamation on ending discriminatory bans on entry into the US, which lifts the travel ban on Muslims – namely Executive Order 13780, as well as Proclamations 9645, 9723 and 9983 introduced by Trump. Biden’s order also aims to clear the backlog of immigration waivers processing and resume visa processing.

ICE, sanctuary cities and deportation

How it started: In 2017, the Trump administration introduced a policy known as Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States, or Executive Order 13768. The order broadly strengthened immigration authorities to deport families, long-term residents and Dreamers. Sanctuary cities – communities that protected undocumented immigrants from deportation – that failed to cooperate were at risk of losing federal Justice Department grants.

How are you: On day one, Biden signed an executive order to review civilian immigration enforcement policy, which subsequently revoked executive order 13768. Biden’s executive order pledged to protect national and border security and to address humanitarian issues on the southern border.


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