With a focus on immigration reform, this week the U.S. House of Representatives passed a set of immigration bills that will allow DACA holders a path to citizenship. Prior to this, DACA was a way to defer deportation or removal from the United States, but it didn’t solve the problem of gaining status. President Biden has promised throughout his campaign that he would propose an immigration plan that gives green cards to DACA holders. The bills offer legal protections for Dreamers, Temporary Protected Status recipients and farmworkers, as well as reform the existing H-2A agricultural guestworker program. As this plan goes forth, there has been an influx of migration to the border in which prompted Secretary Mayorkas to close the US-Mexico border within days of the bills passage.
The First Immigration Bill: the American Dream and Promise Act of 2021
In the first vote, the House passed H.R. 6, the American Dream and Promise Act of 2021, with a final vote count of 228-197. It would provide a pathway to citizenship for the young undocumented immigrants known as “Dreamers” as well as for Temporary Protected Status recipients and Deferred Enforced Departure beneficiaries. The legislation stands to make up to 4.4 million individuals eligible for permanent residence.
The Second Immigration Bill: the Farm Workforce Modernization Act
The House next voted to pass the bipartisan H.R. 1603, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. The bill would permit farm workers, and their spouses and children, to earn legal status through continued employment in the agricultural sector, and would make changes to the H-2A agricultural guest worker program.
The next hurdle will be getting both of these bills to pass in the U.S. Senate. Unfortunately this is not promising as the chances of these bills getting enough Republican support to reach 60 votes in the Senate is very low. Immigration policy is so wrapped up in politics that it prevents meaningful change where it should be handled. Getting a bill passage would eliminate the need for executive orders that risk being erased by a future administration, as we saw during the Trump administration the last four years. Passage of the two bills will give House Democrats an opportunity to say they are working to advance immigration reforms, but questions remain over the fate of broader efforts to overhaul the nation’s immigration system. While some progressive Democrats would have liked to see comprehensive immigration reform legislation rather than these two piecemeal bills, other Democrats have thrown cold water on the idea, underscoring how much of an uphill climb it would be to pass a broader immigration package. Truthfully, there doesn’t seem to be enough support in this Congress to pass a full-blown immigration bill with a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants, a key pillar of Biden’s immigration plan.
The US-Mexico Border is Closed:
“The border is closed. We are expelling families, we are expelling single adults and we have made a decision that we will not expel young, vulnerable children,” Mr. Mayorkas said on “Meet the Press” on Sunday. Already, the government is seeing more children arriving each day than ever before. It has been reported that over 523 children have been held in Border Patrol custody over the 72 hour legal limit and the administration projects 117,000 unaccompanied children could cross the border this year, far surpassing previous records. So far border crossing is limited to “essential” travel at least until April 21, 2021 and likely longer.
Asylum seekers also continue to face significant obstacles to accessing protection in Mexico.These include a 30-day time limit to request asylum after entering the country, the requirement to stay in the state where the asylum request was made while it is being processed, inadequate access to a humanitarian visa that would facilitate access to basic services, and long delays in resolving claims.
The increased numbers of people crossing the border right now is something that border experts have predicted for some time now. The roots of what is happening are in the Trump administration policies that caused massive numbers of people to be stuck on the Mexican side of the border—policies like “Remain in Mexico” (which forced over 70,000 asylum seekers to wait for their U.S. court dates in Mexico border cities) and “metering,” a practice under which U.S. border authorities place severe limits on who is allowed to approach ports of entry and ask for asylum, in violation of U.S. and international law. The increased border crossings was predictable, not because of Biden administration policies like winding down “Remain with Mexico,” but because of the dangers put in place by Trump’s cruel and illegal policies of deterrence.
Biden officials have said that, under Trump, the U.S. decimated avenues to seek asylum, including returning unaccompanied migrant children without legal protections, and cut foreign aid that had been intended to improve conditions in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. The administration has promised reforms such as shortening the amount of time it takes to adjudicate asylum claims, but has not yet provided specifics