The House passed two bills on Thursday to advance part of President Joe Biden’s immigration agenda and provide a route to citizenship for undocumented “DREAMERS” who came to the United States as children, farm workers, and immigrants with temporary humanitarian protection.
Nine Republicans joined the Democrats to pass the Dreams and Promises Act by 228-197 votes. The Farm Workers Modernization Act was also passed between 247 and 174 and backed by 30 Republicans. Both bills had already passed the House in 2019 with fewer Republicans, but were never accepted into the then Republican-led Senate.
The draft bills are aimed closely at immigrants who are perceived as sympathetic at least by some members of both parties. They represent the Democrats’ best chance of getting immigration reform through at this point, though a comprehensive immigration reform bill backed by Biden is unlikely to attract the Republican votes needed in the Senate for the moment. Still, it’s not clear that there is an appetite in the Senate for smaller immigration bills that would require at least 10 Republicans to board.
The Dream and Promise Act is a more expansive version of the main democratic immigration law, the DREAM Act. While this bill mainly covered DREAMer, it was not aimed at immigrants who fall under Temporary Protection Status (TPS) or DED (Deferred Enforced Departure) – types of humanitarian protection that allow citizens of countries affected by natural disasters, armed conflict or suffering from other extraordinary circumstances living and working in the US without fear of deportation.
The Agricultural Workforce Modernization Act, which was the result of months of bipartisan negotiations, could legalize up to 325,000 immigrants currently working in agriculture who have no legal status. Republicans are usually reluctant to support any sort of legalization of undocumented immigrants – immigration groups condemned the bill as a means of securing “cheap foreign labor” at the expense of American workers – but the lawmakers who backed the bill represent districts in which Agriculture is a big industry.
“We can’t wait any longer. I urge Congress to come together to find long-term solutions for our entire immigration system so that we can create a safe, orderly and humane immigration system, tackle the root causes of migration and legalize the undocumented population in the United States, “Biden tweeted on Thursday, calling on lawmakers to pass both bills.
The dream and promise law
The Dreams and Promises Act provides a route to citizenship for approximately 2.5 million dreamers and other immigrants with temporary humanitarian protection. The original DREAM law was narrower and included about 1.5 million people. Many of them have lived in the US for years, if not decades, but former President Donald Trump tried to dismantle the programs that offered them protection from deportation.
The paths vary for different groups. DREAMERS – Undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children – would have a longer road to future citizenship ahead of them. More than 825,000 DREAMers were allowed to live and work in the USA as part of the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program of the Obama era, which Trump unsuccessfully wanted to reverse. However, a Texas-led Red State coalition is challenging the program’s legality in federal court. In this case, the judge is expected to rule every day, leaving the recipients in a precarious position.
Humanitarian protection beneficiaries would have a shorter way to go. Among them are Liberians who sought refuge in the United States in their home country from around 1989 to 2003 before the Civil War. Approximately 400,000 citizens of El Salvador, Honduras and Haiti could also live and work with TPS in the US, but Trump tried to end their status among nationals of other countries from November 2017 against advice from State Department officials. He argued that conditions in these countries have improved to the point that their citizens can now return safely. But many of them have lived in the US for decades and put down roots, making it difficult for them to return to countries they no longer call home.
Those eligible for protection can apply for a green card immediately if they have lived in the United States for at least three years and were eligible for TPS on September 17, 2017 or postponed forced departure status on January 20, 2021. After five years, if you have a green card, you can apply for citizenship.
DREAMers, on the other hand, would have to apply for “conditional permanent residence”, which would only be granted under certain conditions:
They should have arrived in the US before they were 18 and would have been in the US for at least four years. You would need a relatively clean record – one conviction for a crime or three different offenses with a total imprisonment of 90 days would disqualify. You would need a high school diploma or GED, or be enrolled in a program to get either. You would need to pass a background exam and other admission requirements.
This designation as “conditional status” would take 10 years before they could apply for citizenship, but they could work in the meantime. There are other ways for DREAMers to apply for a Green Card at any time, e.g. B. two years of military service, three years of work, or a degree from a higher education institution (or at least two years through a bachelor’s or technical program).
The Law on Modernizing the Agricultural Workforce
The Farm Workers Modernization Act is the largest legalization move Republicans have endorsed in recent years. It was passed by House 260-165 in 2019. MP Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) had introduced another version of the farm labor temporary employment visa reform back in 2018, but most Democrats viewed this bill as a non-starter.
The bill would allow farm workers who have worked 180 days or more in the past two years to apply for “certified farm worker” status, which can be renewed in increments of six months or five years if they continue to work in agriculture for at least 100 days a year. It also provides a path to a green card for long-term farm workers, which requires at least four more years of industry experience and a $ 1,000 fee.
The bill simplifies the application process for the H-2A temporary visa program for seasonal agricultural workers, which admitted more than 196,000 people in 2018. In addition, up to 40,000 green cards can be granted annually, either through sponsorship from an employer or if employees maintain H-2A status for 10 years.
In addition, the bill would create a new program limited to 20,000 visas for year-round agribusiness previously barred from participating in the H-2A program and facing labor shortages, including dairy farming and producers of other animal products.
The draft law tightens enforcement and obliges farm employers to participate in the federal e-verify program, with no exceptions for smallholders. It would freeze the government’s minimum wage for one year and raise the cap to 3.25 percent for the next nine years – which could attract opposition from the working groups.
US agribusiness has relied on migrant workers for decades, and dates back to the Bracero program in the 1940s that allowed millions of Mexicans to come to the US as farm workers. Another large influx of unauthorized labor came in the 1990s before a slowdown that began around 2008 and resulted in agricultural employers being unable to replace aging workers.
Congress has since wrestled over how to respond to labor shortages in agriculture and how to reduce the industry’s dependence on undocumented workers. This mission received a new urgency under Trump after his administration’s immigration raids against the agricultural sector. In an August 2019 raid, 680 workers were arrested at two poultry factories in Mississippi.
Biden’s attempt at comprehensive immigration reform has been suspended for the time being
Parliament decided to vote immediately on these two bills instead of the Biden-backed US Citizenship Act of 2021, a comprehensive immigration reform package that centers around an eight-year journey to citizenship for the estimated 10.5 million undocumented immigrants who live in the country. The bill also addresses the underlying causes of migration, expanding the number of visas and green cards available, investing in technology and infrastructure in ports of entry along the border, removing asylum barriers and strengthening the protection of migrant workers.
The legislation, which is sort of a model for the Democratic Party for Immigration, is unlikely to attract the 10 Republican votes necessary to run the Senate – unless the Democrats eliminate or change the filibuster to let them the bill can pass the bill without a Republican vote.
Some Republicans have already warned that the bill would “return to radical left-wing policies that incentivize illegal immigration and encourage an endless flood of foreigners to the United States”.
So far, however, Democrats have been reluctant to say they are ready to negotiate with Republicans to improve border security, beyond upgrading ports of entry or restricting the law’s legalization provisions. However, they suggested that after consulting key members in April, the bill could be discussed and amended as part of the committee markup process.
“We’re not going to waste time,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, Chair of the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship, at a recent news conference. “We’ll plan to get the Biden bill and a number of other bills through the Justice Committee and then on the floor in April. We know we can’t wait. “
However, some Democrats say the rationale for major reform has changed since the Biden government faced challenges on the border. Immigration authorities are trying to humanely accommodate large numbers of unaccompanied children arriving at the border, and Republicans have tried to describe this as the “Biden Border Crisis”.
Senator Dick Durbin, who has long been at the forefront of immigration in Congress and who introduced the original DREAM bill, recently told reporters that as a result, he saw no way to get the Biden bill and its promise of a path to citizenship for the United States adopt undocumented.
“I don’t see any means to achieve it,” he said. “I think we’re much more concerned with discrete elements [of immigration reform]. ”
But Senator Bob Menendez, who is a leading co-founder of the Senate bill, has said he is not ready to give up just yet.
“I won’t be giving up the white flag until we start,” he told reporters earlier this week.