Not long ago, Fareed Zakaria in his weekly GPS television program on CNN deplored the current state of U.S. immigration policy and called on President Biden to present a new bipartisan immigration bill to Congress in an effort to fix the “broken” system. But this was exactly what President Biden did on his first day as President. So what happened then?

Comprehensive Reform Proposed

In January 2021, President Biden proposed an immigration bill he titled The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 which in his view would have established a new immigration system “to responsibly manage and secure our border, keep our families and communities safe, and better manage migration across the Hemisphere.”

The bill proposed pathways to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, including DREAMers and farm workers, while also enhancing border security measures. It sought to clear backlogs in family-based and employment-based immigration, improve refugee and asylum processing, and invest in addressing the root causes of migration in Central American countries. Additionally, the bill aimed to modernize the immigration system by promoting diversity, streamlining processes, and providing resources for immigrant integration.

Uphill In Congress

The Biden bill faced an uphill battle in Congress, particularly the Senate, where Democrats held a razor-thin majority. The legislation required a minimum of 10 Republican votes to defeat a Senate filibuster to move the bill to a final vote on passage. Part of the challenge was that immigration has always been an explosive subject in America. Indeed, just for starters, virtually any immigration reform measure has economic and national security implications for Americans. For those reasons, the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 which was a comprehensive bill with many provisions, immediately sparked disagreements over specific policy details, such as the pathways to citizenship, border security measures, and visa reforms. Concerns were raised about the economic impact of immigration policies on jobs and wages, as well as about the potential security risks associated with certain provisions of the reform bill.

Indeed, Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican immediately blasted Biden’s proposal as “mass amnesty” and called it “far more radical” than past congressional efforts that have failed. He added, “I’ve previously supported immigration proposals that would provide certainty for DACA-eligible individuals and lead to greater border security and more robust enforcement of our immigration laws. But a mass amnesty with no safeguards and no strings attached is a non-starter. As we’ve seen before, that approach only encourages further violations of our immigration laws.” Marco Rubio, the Republican Senator from Florida expressed similar sentiments.

Mission Impossible

Passage of the Biden comprehensive bill turned out to be a “mission impossible.”

Instead, lawmakers opted to try passing smaller bills, including some severely watered-down measures where citizenship provisions were left out altogether. Those measures eventually stalled in Congress or perished as part of President Biden’s later Build Back Better Plan or were lost somewhere in the sweeping changes that occurred as the Covid-19 pandemic overtook the nation’s agenda. Some progress was made through the budget reconciliation process where immigration reforms were tacked on to budgetary initiatives that made it through Congress in that fashion. But what was clear was that Biden’s comprehensive immigration reform plan would not make it through Congress. But this is not a reason to despair.

Some Progress Lately

The Biden administration has made some noteworthy progress in the area of immigration reform using innovative approaches to getting things done. Its use of humanitarian parole, more reliance on family sponsorships to help immigrants enter the USA, toughening up the rules for dealing with migrants without visas at the northern and southern borders, requiring safe third country asylum clearance before U.S. entries, introducing U.S. immigration pre-clearance offices abroad, using technology to process asylum claimants, and helping countries build up their societies in Latin America have all been new ways in which the Administration has dealt with immigration matters.

More Can Be Done

Numerous studies have shown that America needs more legal immigrants. Of course, more can and must be done to attract them. Among the most promising initiatives that have come along in recent months has been the trend to link the arrival of new immigrants to American sponsors such as family members who are willing to provide support for the new arrivals. Linking entry to supporters in the USA reduces the likelihood of migrants depending on government support to make their way into their new environment. Broadening the scope of who can support migrants seeking entry to include volunteers such as has been done with the Afghan and Ukrainian arrivals made sense in their cases and should be a path followed in future cases as well. Using such an approach will help more immigrants seeking refuge in America for justifiable reasons such as natural disasters, climate change, or escape from poverty without trying to stretch the outer limits of the refugee processing system to untenable extremes. Providing a clear path to citizenship for those who have lived in the United States for ten years or longer and not committed any criminal offenses would go a long way to repairing the system that exists. A new Senate bill just introduced in Congress could do that. See it here.

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