Democrats unveil immigration reform legislation

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., was one of the co-sponsors on an immigration reform bill providing a pathway to citizenship for 11 million people. Pool Photo by Graeme Jennings/UPI
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., was one of the co-sponsors on an immigration reform bill providing a pathway to citizenship for 11 million people. Pool Photo by Graeme Jennings/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 18 (UPI) -- Democrats in Congress unveiled a sweeping immigration reform bill Thursday that closely aligns with President Joe Biden's vision, offering a pathway to citizenship for some 11 million people.

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., co-sponsors of the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, said they plan to formally introduce the legislation in Congress. They previewed the bill to reporters in a virtual news conference Thursday morning.


"We have 11 million undocumented people living, working and raising families in our communities without legal status," Menendez said. "These are good and decent people who believe in the promise of America down to their bones."

Among the key provisions in the bill are:

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-- An eight-year pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States by Jan. 1.

-- An expedited pathway for farm workers and those who have Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals protections.

-- Increasing the per-country caps, clearing visa backlogs and eliminating discrimination for family-based immigration.

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-- Eliminating the word "alien" in U.S. law and replace it with "non-citizen."


-- Reforming the employment-based immigration system by eliminating per-country caps and improving access for workers in low-wage industries.

-- Increasing funding for state and local government, and non-governmental organizations' immigration initiatives.

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-- Protecting workers and improving the employment verification process.

-- Eliminating the one-year deadline for filing asylum claims and eliminating the application backlogs.

Sanchez, whose parents are immigrants, said she anticipates discussion with Republicans over border security.

"This bill does contemplate investments in all of our ports of entry," she said during the press conference. "We feel very confident that we can be working more efficiently, rather than being fixated on vanity projects like the wall, which have proven to be ineffective."

The legislation comes one week after Biden officially ended a national emergency declaration at the United States' southern border with Mexico. Former President Donald Trump issued the declaration two years ago to facilitate diverting federal funds to build his border wall.

Biden signed an executive order in January to halt border wall construction.

An administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity told reporters Wednesday night that Biden was willing to work with Republicans on the legislation, which will need 60 votes to avoid being blocked by filibuster.


"He was in the Senate for 36 years, and he is the first to tell you the legislative process can look different on the other end than where it starts," the official said.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, chairman of the House judiciary committee, said the immigration reform proposal is a "non-starter and should be rejected by Congress."

"President Biden's immigration proposal puts our country's safety and economic interests last at a time when we should be focused on reopening our schools, getting Americans back to work and defeating COVID-19," he said.

"This blatantly partisan proposal rewards those who broke the law, floods the labor market at a time when millions of Americans are out of work, fails to secure the border and incentivizes further illegal immigration."

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