President Biden introduced a sweeping immigration reform bill that will be considered by both houses of Congress. The bill would provide a path to permanent legal status for all undocumented immigrants currently residing in the country, with fast tracks for those protected under DACA, TPS, and certain farm workers. Though there are conditions that must be met to qualify, it would be a step forward toward having the United States recognize the value that immigrants add to our country. The bill also focuses on keeping families together by removing the three- and ten-year bars to admissibility, which force those who lived in the country without status to apply for a waiver showing hardship to a US citizen spouse or child. There are also protections for undocumented workers that would allow them to report employers for violations without having to fear repercussions or deportation. The bill gives increased support to enforcement of the border with technology allowing for detection of illegal substances and targeting criminal organizations. The bill also invests in Central American countries to address the root cause of why so many people are forced to flee and seek refuge elsewhere.
Perhaps one of the most consequential changes would be a simple shift in language: “illegal alien” to “non-citizen”. While this would have no effect in policy or in the way laws are enforced, it humanizes a large group of people who were often overlooked. It signals to outside countries that the US is an open and welcoming country, and one that leads by example. Hopefully, a language shift would trigger a similar positive shift in attitude toward immigrants.
The many changes brought forth by Biden’s reform would be wonderfully beneficial and would usher in a new era of inclusivity and prosperity in the US, assuming it is able to pass through the House of Representatives and the Senate. Realistically, the bill will be divided up with some pieces becoming law and some being tabled. Senate Republicans have already began their opposition against it, arguing that the bill will, in effect, punish current US citizens, most specifically in the workforce. They argue that by allowing non-citizens paths to citizenship, it makes it harder for working class Americans to get jobs, especially in the wake of the pandemic and its effects on the economy.
This ignores a truth that is perhaps the largest misnomer in America; undocumented immigrants currently work in jobs all across the country and contribute significantly to our economy with their tax dollars. Despite not being documented as residents, some obtain taxpayer identification numbers allowing their employers to process payroll taxes for them. This allows the US Government to profit from their work without giving them any sort of benefits in return. By keeping them “undocumented,” the government enables employers to exploit people with poor working conditions and wages. Biden’s reform would challenge this and would give these contributing members of society the legal status they deserve. The bill would also enable them to have the same protections the rest of the US workforce has and would boost the number of qualified workers for employers to choose from. Everyone benefits from having a path to citizenship for 11 million people.
Frustratingly, the first draft of a bill rarely ends up resembling the final product and assuredly, Biden’s bill certainly not pass as currently written. While straightforward and mutually beneficial, there is controversy surrounding any support of immigrants, even despite polls showing the majority of Americans support pathways to citizenship for the undocumented immigrants currently living here. Hopefully meaningful elements of the bill will survive and get passed by Congress. There has never been a better or more dire time for immigration reform.