Hope for the Holidays: U.S. Senate to Take Up Immigration Reform in December

On November 15, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a massive spending bill with more than $100 billion earmarked for immigration reform.

By Tribuna Staff

On November 15, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a massive spending bill with more than $100 billion earmarked for immigration reform. 

The Build Back Better Act includes provisions that protect up to 7.1 million out of the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the country from deportation and recaptures more than 2 million unused green cards. 

The provision would make undocumented immigrants eligible to apply for work permits, permission to travel abroad, and benefits like state driver’s licenses, life-changing steps for immigrants from Mexico, South and Central America, and other lands, who remain vulnerable to being deported. 

According to a Washington Post report,President Biden favors a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. In January, he sent a bill to Congress that would have granted virtually all of them a path to U.S. citizenship. Talks with Republicans collapsed as attempted border crossings surged past 1.7 million in the fiscal year that ran from October 1, 2020, to September 30, 2021, so Democrats have turned to their next best option: reconciliation. 

Congress has not passed a citizenship bill since the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, signed by Republican President Ronald Reagan, put nearly 3 million immigrants on a path to  

U.S. citizenship. The law was also supposed to end illegal immigration “forever,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) wrote in his memoir, but the numbers soared instead. 

Separately, the measure would also restore more than 400,000 green cards that went unused because of bureaucratic or pandemic-related delays. Green cards are for permanent residents on a path to citizenship and sponsored by immediate relatives or employers. Others win green cards through the annual diversity visa lottery. 

Here are the immigration provisions in the proposal in more detail: 

Work permits for millions:Democrats are offering a temporary parole option — essentially protection from deportation and a work permit — for close to 7 million undocumented immigrants who have lived in the country since at least January 1, 2011. 

Work permits would be valid for five years and renewed one time, extending protections through September 2031. 

Though far from a path to citizenship, the measure would transform immigrants’ lives in the United States by allowing them to seek permission to travel to their native countries for the first time in years, if not decades, and secure official government-issued identification such as state driver’s licenses. 

Of those 7 million people, an estimated 1.5 million will become eligible to gain green cards through a U.S. family member – a significant portion of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the country today. Those eligible would be protected from deportation and could receive a work permit. 

Green card recapture:If passed as currently written, the bill could recover more than two million green cards previously authorized by Congress that have gone unused since 1992. 

Some employment-based green card applicants have been waiting in the backlog for at least two years. Under the current bill, they will be able to pay a $5,000 supplemental fee to waive the annual and per-country limitations and become permanent residents years — or even decades — more quickly. 

Family-based applicants who have been waiting at least two years may apply to waive the limitations with a fee of $2,500. 

The bill also aims to protect green cards for Diversity Visa winners who were prevented from entering the United States during the previous administration’s various travel bans, Covid-related entry bans, and embasy and consulate closures. 

In addition, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the primarily fee-funded Homeland Security agency that processes visa and other benefits requests, would get $2.8 billion to expand its processing capacity and reduce visa backlogs. 

Child Tax Credit:Under the Trump administration, roughly one million children with undocumented parents were barred from receiving Covid-related financial assistance. The new bill proposes reversing the rule. 

Whether or not these provisions make it into the final Senate bill remains unclear. However, immigration advocates celebrate any immigration reform as a win, providing much-needed hope for the holidays for a community that has been clamoring on its doorsteps for decades. 

The bill will not reach the Senate floor until December.