Congress is considering legislation that would reduce the current wait time to eight years for the 11 million undocumented immigrants who are in the United States illegally, including those that fall under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order who wish to gain citizenship. The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 is the cornerstone of a comprehensive immigration reform package. The bill was introduced in early February and covers several aspects of immigration reform. It addresses how certain non-citizens can gain citizenship and how the country will handle taking in those entering from other countries.
What are the Citizenship Changes Proposed?
The core of the legislation addresses citizenship and proposes an eight-year timeframe for undocumented immigrants to become U.S. citizens. Candidates must first pass a series of criminal and national security background checks and pay their taxes to become eligible. They must have also arrived in this country on or before January 1, 2021. However, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will have the authority to waive that presence requirement for those immigrants who were deported on or after January 20, 2017. Those individuals need to physically have been in this country for three years to potentially qualify for the waiver.
For most undocumented immigrants, they will be granted temporary legal status for five years once they pass the background and criminal check. During that time, they can live and work in the U.S. Then, they would have to wait an additional three years to apply for citizenship. Under this legislation, there is a shorter pathway for Dreamers, those with Temporary Protected Status (TPS), and immigrant farmworkers, who can receive a green card immediately.
The bill aims to keep families together by exempting them from the cap amounts of people the U.S. would accept from one nation. The exemption would apply to spouses, partners, and children under 21 years old. There would also be additional funding granted to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to clear out a significant backlog of applications. In addition, those who have a family-sponsorship petition will be permitted to join their family in this country on a temporary basis as they await their green card.
What are the Proposed Changes to the Legal System?
The one-year deadline for filing an asylum case would also be eliminated under this legislation. There are proposed increases to the number of diversity visas from 55,000 to 80,000, which encourages others to migrate to this country from nations that the U.S. does not normally see an influx from. Other visa changes include increasing the protections for U visa, T visa, and Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) applicants. To accomplish that, the cap on U visas will be increased from 10,000 to 30,000. The bill also expands protections for foreign nationals assisting U.S. troops.
Additionally, the bill recommends the creation of a commission made up of employers, labor unions, and civil rights advocates. Its mission would be to come up with solutions to improve worker verification. In other labor changes, the bill would protect foreign whistleblowers who report labor violations from retaliation. There would also be an increase in penalties if an employer knowingly hires someone who is in this country illegally. In further protection of immigrant employees, the bill will grant U visa relief to those workers who are mistreated and report those mistreatments to worker protection agencies.
What About Border Security?
Regarding border security, the bill ensures that all ports of entry will be thoroughly scanned for contraband and narcotics. The bill would also provide funding for education about border safety and professionalism. Creation of the Border Community Stakeholder Advisory Committee would investigate criminal and administrative misconduct on the part of border agents. The DHS would also issue department-wide guidance on the use of force.
There will also be additional funding provided to the DHS, along with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and nongovernmental experts, that will create guidelines and protocols for standards of care for individuals, families, and children under U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The bill also takes a different strategy to curb the number of people who attempt to enter the country illegally. The legislation calls for the U.S. to send $4 billion to other countries to improve their distressed economies.
It would tackle some other issues to curb the flow of people, including cracking down on smugglers, narcotics, and trafficking networks. Refugee processing centers would also be set up in Central America and resources will be added to process individuals legally at ports of entry. Money would also be distributed to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and DHS, in coordination with the Secretary of State, to improve transnational anti-gang task forces in Central America.
Does the Legislation Address the Economy?
The pending bill would make changes to the current structure to allow for an influx of new workers from other nations, as well as allow students from other countries who graduate with a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) degree to remain in this country. Some of the other changes include improved access to green cards for those workers who are in lower-wage sectors. It would also eliminate other bureaucratic obstacles that might slow down a person’s ability to obtain an employment-based visa. It will also prevent anyone who is a dependent of an H-1B visa holder and children from aging out of the system.
Philadelphia Immigration Lawyers at Surin & Griffin, P.C. Help Clients with Citizenship Concerns
If you are looking to become a citizen or are having problems with your immigration status, a Philadelphia immigration lawyer at Surin & Griffin, P.C. can help you with your case. Call 215-925-4435 or contact us online for an initial consultation. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and nationwide.