NASHVILLE, TN – Less than two weeks into his new job, President Joe Biden issued six executive orders and signaled he would send a comprehensive immigration reform bill to Congress in coming weeks.
“We’ve just been through four years of cruelty and chaos brought to you by the Trump administration,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice. He is a longtime immigrant rights activist from Boston.
Sharry said the new Congress is more pro-immigrant and most Americans are glad to see the end of Trump’s draconian family separation policy. A majority of Americans support a pathway to citizenship for the Dreamers. Sharry credits the change in the political climate and public opinion to the hard work of immigrant advocates.
“I’d say the progressive pro-immigrant movement is aligning on three main goals. One is to undo the cruelty that has been put in place in recent year to stop the pain that has been inflicted on immigrants and refugees,” Sharry said.
He said creating a fair humane and functional immigration system is the second goal. “Third is to pass transformative legislation that will put millions of undocumented immigrants on a path to citizenship,” Sharry said.
In his first week, Biden issued six executive orders and two DHS memos changing Trump’s policies, and he introduced a sweeping legislative immigration reform proposal.
Biden ended the Muslim travel ban, ordered the reinstatement of DACA for immigrant youth, ended the border wall construction, imposed a 100-day moratorium on most deportations, and began a winding down of the “remain in Mexico program” that denied refugees their right to apply for asylum. The Biden administration also stopped Trump’s effort to take undocumented immigrants out of the census count.
“We can view the U.S. Citizenship Act as part of this drive towards racial equity, racial justice by the Biden administration, “ said John Yang, president of Asian Americans Advancing Justice.
Yang said the act is President Biden’s blueprint to fix a broken U.S. immigration system. Included in the bill is the Reuniting Families Act. Yang noted that family immigration has been a cornerstone of the American immigration system for many years.
“Families help immigrant settle. They find jobs. They learn English, as they become part of our society. Immigrants, in turn, will take care of their children, bring other relatives who can help with their children, which in turn, allow immigrants to find other jobs, build businesses and really contribute to American society,” Yang said.
Yang said a small minority of Asian immigrants has skilled worker visas. The great majority of Asian immigrants are like any others.
“They come here to find a better life. They don’t come here necessarily with political power, with wealth, with class, but they come here because they believe in American values.”
Biden’s proposal would allow mixed-status families to sponsor their members and bring them to the United States. Yang noted that immigrants experience a different kind of family separation that results from the lengthy legal immigration process. The new act would allow members to join their families while waiting for their cases to move forward.
“The current immigration law is woefully inadequate,” said Cyrus Mehta, an immigration attorney. Cyrus said the green card allotments for H1B visas and investor visas as are set too low.
“For example, if somebody has been sponsored on an H1B visa and the employer files for a green card on behalf of a person born in India, it would take several decades before that person gets a green card,” Mehta said.
The current system discriminates based on a person’s country of birth. Indians and Chinese immigrants are most impacted. Mehta said that in the family categories it could take 10-20 years for family members of US citizens to immigrate.
“It’s ridiculous. That’s not the way Congress intended it to be when the last reform with immigration numbers happened in the 1990 Act. They were thinking that 2-3 year waits would be too long but now we have waits that stretch into several decades.”
U.S. immigration is based on a system of country quotas. Visas in employment and family categories are capped at 7% of each country’s annual quota. That limit is reached sooner when more people apply for those visas. So if you are from Lithuania or Switzerland you can get a green card in a couple of years. If you are from India it can take decades.
“The Biden bill proposes to eliminate these per country limits (within each category) because they cause a lot of mischief, They indirectly lead to discrimination over the years.” Mehta said.
Biden’s plan would not increase the numbers of visas for skilled workers but it would allow their family members to immigrate. It would stop children of parents, who have waited years for green cards, from aging out when they reach 21 and that would reduce the backlog of cases.
Mehta said the reason why the U.S. has so many undocumented immigrants is not because they are criminals. It’s because not enough visas are issued to agricultural and other essential workers.
“Nobody wants to be out of status. Everybody wants to get in status but they can’t because of the imperfections in the system and because of the inadequacies of the visa numbers,” Mehta said.
Biden’s plan would fix some of the problems that have plagued immigrants for years.