Democrats have introduced a White House-backed bill to overhaul the immigration system, create an eight-year path to citizenship, and allow undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States to obtain legal status.
“We have 11 million undocumented people living, working and raising families in our communities without legal status,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) during a Thursday news conference announcing the bill. “These are good and decent people who believe in the promise of America down to their bones.”
Other provisions in the legislation create a fast-track citizenship process for “Dreamers” — people who were brought to the U.S. by their parents at a young age — as well as some farmworkers and immigrants who previously secured temporary protected status.
Introducing the bill alongside Menendez, Rep. Linda Sànchez (D-Calif.), said, “I am the daughter of immigrant parents from Mexico. They came to this country and they work hard and they sacrificed every day to provide for me and my brothers and sisters. Their story is like the story of so many others.”
The 353-page bill faces an uphill battle in Congress where Democrats hold a razor-thin five-vote majority in the House and are 10 votes shy of the 60 needed to bypass the Senate filibuster. One of former president Barack Obama’s top priorities was to pass comprehensive immigration reform, but he ended his term with mixed results. He created DACA through executive action, which granted temporary work permits and deportation protection to Dreamers, but Obama’s hoped-for comprehensive, bipartisan immigration legislation stalled in Congress.
Knowing that there is not a clear path for the full bill, Democrats are signaling they might be open to splitting the legislation into parts and trying to pass it piecemeal. Because comprehensive immigration reform has been elusive for decades, some activists are willing to compromise some to accomplish their goals.
“We want 11 million people legalized. That is our North Star,” Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice and longtime immigrant advocate, told the New York Times. “But we can’t come home empty-handed. We’re not going to adopt an all-or-nothing approach. We have to achieve a breakthrough.”
According to the Wall Street Journal‘s Michelle Hackman and Tarini Parti, Democrats are considering using two bills passed last Congress, since they can bypass the committee process as long as they act before April 1. One existing bill would create a path to citizenship for Dreamers, and another would offer citizenship to undocumented immigrant farmworkers. But, congressional aides and advocates told the Journal that even those bills would likely not garner the 10 Republican votes needed to pass the Senate without making significant compromises.
Despite congressional Republicans’ hesitation, the vast majority of Americans support measures similar to what is included in the bill. A Pew Research Center poll from June 2020 found broad support — 75 percent of adults (89 percent of Democrats, 57 percent of Republicans) — for granting immigrants the right to stay in the country if they meet certain requirements, and 74 percent supported giving permanent legal status to DACA recipients.