Potential Immigration Reform Measures on the Horizon
James K. Gotcher, Partner
In February 2021, the Biden Administration introduced the US Citizenship Act of 2021 in the House of Representatives, which provides comprehensive immigration reform (“CIR”). CIR was elusive for past administrations as the last major CIR occurred in 1986 with a smaller bill passing in 1990. However, in each attempt since, the bill would get caught up in partisan politics and never passed. The primary obstacle in each instance was the sheer size of the reform, making it impossible to get all sides to agree to all of the various parts or agree enough to pass a vote on it.
While the Biden CIR bill provides a reflection of the current administration immigration views, much like its failed predecessors, it is unlikely to pass in its current state. Instead, it appears that the administration and the democrats will take a piece-meal approach to passing the various components. The first two bills that were introduced are the Dream Act of 2021, which is part of the larger American Dream and Promise Act of 2021, and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2021.
The Dream Act of 2021, which is part of the larger American Dream and Promise Act of 2021, is aimed at providing Dreamers a pathway to citizenship. The Senate and House bills differ slightly, but both provide conditional permanent residency which would include work authorization and after a certain period, Dreamers could apply for naturalization. Both bills disqualify people for certain criminal convictions and crimes. The biggest difference between the House and Senate bills has to do with who qualifies (age and physical presence), the amount of time you have to wait to apply for citizenship, and which crimes would disqualify an applicant. The House bill would help an estimated 3M potential Dreams while the Senate bill would help an estimated 2M Dreamers. To date, the House passed the bill with a 228 -197 vote, but the Senate has not taken it up for a vote yet.
The Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2021 was previously passed by the House in 2019 with bipartisan support (260 -165 vote), but never made it to the Senate for a vote. Earlier this year, the bill was re-introduced in the House as the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2021 and was passed with a 247-174 vote. The bill would provide much-needed reforms to the H-2A program and it would provide a pathway to legal status and eventually permanent residency for agricultural workers. The bill is currently waiting to get introduced in the Senate.
While these two stand-alone bills do not provide the earth-shaking changes that Biden’s CIR act included, it seems that in order to get anything passed in this highly-polarized and charged political environment, a more modest piece-meal approach may be the key. Hopefully, by breaking down the bigger CIR into smaller pieces, it will be easier for the two sides to find a common, agreeable middle ground that will lead to more piece-meal immigration bills in other areas.