Population and society
Two bills expected to be brought up to a House vote this month — the American Dream and Promise Act and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act — address a pathway to citizenship for thousands of immigrants.
The comprehensive US Citizenship Act of 2021, which was also unveiled in February, addresses other immigration issues like visas and border security. It’s unclear if the US Citizenship Act of 2021 will be put up for a congressional vote, but in conjunction with the two smaller bills, it could serve as an outline of Biden’s and Democrats’ immigration agenda. Meanwhile, government data shows how many people may be affected if the proposed policies are enacted.
The American Dream and Promise Act would provide a path to citizenship for Dreamers — unauthorized immigrants who were brought to the US as minors and are participating in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program — and temporary protected status recipients, people from selected countries who are allowed to stay in the US based on ongoing conditions in their home nation.
The pathway for citizenship for temporary protected status recipients could affect an estimated 411,000 people from 10 countries — El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. (Venezuela was added to the list of countries in early 2021, after the time frame addressed in the bill.)
The Farm Workforce Modernization Act would provide a path to citizenship to long-time farm workers in the country on an H-2A visa. The H-2A visa allows agriculture businesses to compensate for a lack of domestic labor by hiring foreign workers on a temporary or seasonal basis. The provisions will immediately apply to those who have been working under the H-2A visa for more than 10 years. In fiscal year 2019, the number of H-2A visas exceeded 200,000 for the first time.
Among the provisions in the US Citizenship Act that weren’t included in those smaller bills are:
These would increase per-country caps for family visas and help clear backlogs of spouses and children of green card holders. It would also increase protections for orphans, widows, and children while eliminating provisions that discriminate against LGBTQ+ families. In addition, it would eliminate per-country caps for work visas, expand green card access for workers in lower-wage industries, and give work authorization to dependents of H-1B visa holders.
Most people who come to the US on visas or green cards are temporary workers, students, or travelling to be with their families.
The US Citizenship Act would eliminate the one-year deadline for filing asylum claims. It would also increase the cap on U visas (provided to victims of specific crimes ) from 10,000 to 30,000.
The bill includes funding for border technology to detect drug trafficking. It also increases penalties for employers who hire unauthorized immigrants. The Citizenship Act doesn’t include provisions for other aspects of border security, such as funding for barriers and enforcement personnel.
The bill would establish a commission involving labor, employer, and civil rights groups to suggest improvements for verifying a worker’s legal status. The Citizenship Act does not make it universally mandatory for employers to participate in E-Verify, a program to check workers’ legal status.
For more context and data about immigration in the US, visit the State of the Union in Numbers.
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