On Feb. 18, Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Democratic House Rep. Linda Sánchez of California introduced the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, a bill created by President Joe Biden on Jan. 20 as part of his action at creating immigration reform. Democratic legislators present at the meeting emphasized the bill as being a solution to fix a broken immigration system, grant citizenship to the undocumented, and reverse the actions taken by the Trump administration on immigration policy.
Before settling into office, President Biden began his presidential campaign with a focus on making reforms to the immigration system that differed from those of his predecessor. Upon being elected, Biden kept his word and made changes to the Trump administration’s policy on immigration, such as reinstating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and stopping construction of Trump’s border wall with executive action.
The bill is described as a way “to restore humanity and American values” to the United States immigration system and to provide opportunities for hardworking individuals to gain citizenship. Linda Sánchez emphasized the benefits that the U.S. Citizenship Act would bring during the meeting and news conference with other Democratic legislators.
“The U.S. Citizenship Act will help grow our economy,” she said. “Fixing our broken immigration system will increase work activity, create more jobs, improve the wages of all workers, and reduce our deficit. The bill will modernize our border region and our ports of entry.”
Along with introducing the bill, Democrat Senators shared a common criticism toward the Trump administration and its handling of immigration policies. Bob Menendez personally shared his grievances witnessing such handling.
“What the immigrant community was just put through these last four years was beyond cruel,” he said. “Trump assailed DREAMERS and TPS holders to strip their legal status. He slashed legal channels of immigration into our country. He stole from our military to pour billions into an ineffective border wall. And instead of addressing the root causes of migration, he cut off aid to Central America.”
One important part of the bill highlighted is its attempt to tackle the causes of people migrating to the U.S. The fact sheet of the bill specifies that the U.S. will work with countries in Central America (specifically, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) and create Designated Processing Centers to help process refugees while establishing programs to help reunify individuals with family members in the U.S. The partnership with countries in Central America will cost an estimated $4 billion if the bill is approved in its original state
One of the challenges facing the bill concerns gaining enough Republican support to back it. Despite the popular Democratic support from members like Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Sen. Alex Padilla of California, certain conservatives have opposed the bill on the grounds that it places higher importance on immigrants over Americans already born in the U.S. and it will encourage more immigrants to cross into the country illegally.
“Joe Biden’s unveiled immigration bill, the U.S. Citizenship Act – or rather, the ‘Aliens First, Americans Last Act’ – doesn’t just continue the reckless open-borders policies of his fledgling administration, but cements them for the rest of American history,” wrote Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona.
Other Republicans think that certain qualifications must be met before entering into the country. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida was one of the first to call attention to the need to enforce the laws of the U.S. when handling immigration.
“America should always welcome immigrants who want to become Americans,” he said in an official statement. “But we need laws that decide who and how many people can come here, and those laws must be followed and enforced. There are many issues I think we can work cooperatively with President-elect Biden, but a blanket amnesty for people who are here unlawfully isn’t going to be one of them.”
The next step to moving the bill forward would be to pass it through the House of Representatives and Senate. However, that is a discussion to be held at an unknown date and time. Despite the possible opposition from Republicans, Congresswoman Sánchez has assured that people who work alongside her will be discussing aspects of the bill with other members of Congress.
“I have a group of closers,” she said. “They are talented, smart members of Congress that have been working on these immigration issues for years. They have relationships with folks in all corners of our caucus, and they are going to be going and having those conversations with members about what is in the bill, trying to address concerns, taking input and of course, the bill introduction today is the starting point.”
Correction: This article has been updated to follow the latest AP Style guidelines.