Biden’s Amnesty Bill Introduced in Congress
FAIR Take | February 2021
On February 18, Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Representative Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) introduced the U.S. Citizenship Act, the largest amnesty bill ever proposed in the history of the United States. The bill is the legislative culmination of President Joe Biden’s promise to put every illegal alien on a pathway to citizenship. But this bill goes even farther than that, and would fundamentally change America’s immigration system for the worse, all in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis.
The bill itself is sweeping, coming in at 353 pages long. A section-by-section summary of the bill totaled over 60 pages. The bill’s length is a testament to the sweeping changes that Biden and his congressional Democratic allies want to make to the immigration system of the United States.
The bill totals five sections, each addressing a different aspect of our current immigration system. It is notable that there are zero enhancements to border security or asylum reform, in stark contrast to prior efforts (e.g. the 2013 Gang of Eight proposal) that paired large amnesties with enforcement measures such as mandatory E-Verify or metrics requirements for border enforcement.
This legislative update briefly addresses only the first three titles in the bill, focusing only on the amnesty itself, “root cause” provisions, and visa system changes. The remaining two titles address reducing the immigration court backlog and some window dressing inclusions on employer sanctions for hiring illegal aliens.
The US Citizenship Act gives over 14.5 million illegal aliens a pathway to citizenship by creating a “Lawful Prospective Immigrant” (LPI) status. By the White House’s own estimate, only those but the most violent felons qualify for LPI, and even then some aliens with multiple felonies will qualify. After just five years, aliens with LPI status will have the ability to receive green cards.
It also provides green cards to Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, and most illegal immigrant farmworkers. Many of the provisions for these de facto amnesty programs passed the House of Representatives last year as part of H.R. 6 - the American Dream and Promise Act, as well as H.R. 5038 - the Farm Workforce Modernization Act.
Addressing the “Root Causes of Migration”
Curiously, as this bill offers to throw open America’s doors to tens of millions of illegal aliens, it simultaneously promises to address the “root causes of migration,” as if the United States was capable of accomplishing such a task. In essence, America would - through its own immigration policy - try to reduce the “push” factors of migration while increasing the “pull” factors. This is hardly a recipe for success.
Addressing the root causes of migration would require rebuilding multiple countries from the ground up, completely complex economic systems, and ending decades (if not centuries) of a country’s domestic political culture and conditions. The U.S. Citizenship Act calls for $4 billion in total appropriations ($1 billion annually in fiscal years 2022-2025) for this purpose.
As a matter of reference, the United States spent $60 billion in Iraq and over $133 billion in Afghanistan. With this comparison, it does not take much to recognize that $4 billion in all of Central America will undoubtedly fail to “address the root causes of migration.”
Visa System Changes
Finally, the bill makes a number of changes to the existing visa system. This includes expanding the visa lottery from 50,000 to 80,000 annually, immediately giving aliens in the visa backlog green cards, and awarding green cards to all foreign students who graduate from U.S. colleges with STEM degrees. It also exempts spouses and children from visa cap numbers and rolls over unused visas to the next fiscal year’s allotment.
This bill - as written - faces no prospect of passing in the Senate. Unless Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) decides to eliminate the filibuster, this would require 60 votes for passing, meaning ten Republicans would need to join every Democrat. There are no Republican Senators on record supporting this bill, and even moderate Democrats such as Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) might vote against it in its current form.
A more worrying proposal is the idea to break the bill up into different components. Congressional Democrats and even President Biden acknowledged this is the more likely pathway. For example, a narrowly-tailored bill giving legal status to DACA and TPS recipients could attract some Republican senators such as Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) or Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), veterans of the Gang of Eight effort.
Unless Republican Senators could hold firm on demands for enforcement measures like mandatory E-Verify or eliminating loopholes in the asylum process, Democrats could pass no-strings-attached amnesties by piecemeal. This is where the real battle is headed, and FAIR will continue monitoring that process as it develops.