Biden’s plan to offer a path to U.S. citizenship to nearly 11 million undocumented people is perhaps the boldest and most controversial of his proposals to overhaul the American immigration system.
More than 60% of the immigrants the plan would benefit have lived in the U.S. for more than a decade and they have more than 4 million American-born children. The adults are 5% of the American work force, especially in agriculture, construction, and the hospitality industries.
The path to citizenship would allow undocumented immigrants in the U.S. before January 1 to apply for temporary legal status after passing background checks and paying taxes. As “lawful prospective immigrants” they would be authorized to work, join the military, and travel without danger of deportation. After five years they could apply for green cards.
The bill would also usher in one of the most significant demographic shifts in modern U.S. history, allowing millions of people to come out of the shadows, to take higher paying jobs, and to apply for benefits such as welfare, health coverage, and Social Security. Eventually these immigrants would become new voters, with the autonomy and power that confers.
Already barriers are going up in Congress and some states to defeat or at least weaken the new immigration initiatives. In a sign of what might lie ahead, another Biden proposal – a 100 day freeze on deportation – was temporarily blocked by a federal judge in Texas after the attorney general argued that the state would face high costs for services to undocumented immigrants who remained.
Other concerns of the opposition are that new citizens will vote as a solid Democratic bloc, displace American workers, and become a burden on public services. Some predict that any movement toward legalization would encourage more desperate people to come into the United States.
But supporters contend that a shortage of blue-collar workers in low skill jobs highlights the need for immigrants. About 5 million of them now work in jobs designated as “essential.” Among the biggest backers of the Biden plan are employers in industries like dairies and meat-packing plants that rely on immigrants.
Episode 2 of Netflix’s series “Surgeon’s Cut” features the story of Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, who was born in Mexicali, Mexico into a childhood of poverty, then became a migrant farmworker, and with determination and courage worked his way to Harvard Medical School to become a world-class neurosurgeon and a professor of neurosurgery at the Mayo Clinic.
When asked about his amazing accomplishments, Dr, Quinones-Hinojosa said, “It’s never been a challenge to stay humble, because I am an immigrant in this country.”
Six out of 17 executive orders signed by President Biden after his inauguration on January 20 are aimed at sweeping aside former President Trump’s anti-immigration policies, finally giving immigrants and asylum seekers in the American and global community reason for hope.
With an executive order, Mr. Biden has bolstered the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that protects immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, often called dreamers. During his term as president, Mr. Trump tried to end the program, known as DACA. President Biden’s order also calls on Congress to pass legislation that guarantees these young immigrants permanent status and a path to citizenship.
Another executive order revokes the Trump administration’s efforts to exclude non-citizens from the census count, denying them representation and federal services, and another overturns a Trump executive order that pushed aggressive efforts by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to find and deport unauthorized immigrants. Yet another order blocks the deportation of Liberians who have been living in the U.S.
In a blow to one of Trump’s earliest actions to limit immigration, Mr. Biden has also ended the so-called Muslim ban, which blocked travel to the U.S. from several majority Muslim and African countries. Mr. Biden has authorized the State Department to restart visa processing for immigrants from the affected countries and to deal with the harm to those who were prevented from coming to the U.S. because of the ban.
President Biden has also halted construction on Trump’s border wall with Mexico, a rallying cry of Trump’s 2016 campaign. The order includes an “immediate termination” of the national emergency declaration that allowed the Trump administration to redirect billions of dollars to the wall. It also states that there will be “a close review” of the legality of Trump’s effort to divert federal money to fund the wall.