LOS ANGELES — During his first days in office, President-elect Joe Biden plans to send a groundbreaking legislative package to Congress to address the long-elusive goal of immigration reform, including what’s certain to be a controversial centerpiece: a pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million immigrants who are in the country without legal status, according to immigrant rights activists in communication with the Biden-Harris transition team.
The bill also would provide a shorter pathway to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of people with temporary protected status and beneficiaries of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals who were brought to the U.S. as children, and probably also for certain front-line essential workers, vast numbers of whom are immigrants.
In a significant departure from many previous immigration bills passed under both Democratic and Republican administrations, the proposed legislation would not contain any provisions directly linking an expansion of immigration with stepped-up enforcement and security measures, said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center Immigrant Justice Fund, who has been consulted on the proposal by Biden staffers.
Both Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris have said their legislative proposal would include a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants in the U.S. without legal status, and The Times has confirmed the bold opening salvo that the new administration plans in its first days doesn’t include the “security first” political concessions of past efforts.
Hincapié, who was co-chair of the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force on Immigration — part of Biden’s outreach to his top primary rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and his progressive base — said that Biden’s decision to not prioritize additional enforcement measures was probably a result of lessons learned from the Obama administration’s failed attempt to appease Republicans by backing tighter immigration enforcement in hopes of gaining their support for immigration relief.
“This notion concerning immigration enforcement and giving Republicans everything they kept asking for … was flawed from the beginning,” she said.
Biden-Harris transition team officials declined to comment on the record.
Biden’s proposal lays out what would be the most sweeping and comprehensive immigration package since President Reagan’s Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which granted legal status to 3 million people who were in the country without documentation.
Under Biden’s plan, immigrants would become eligible for legal permanent residence after five years and for U.S. citizenship after an additional three years — a faster path to citizenship than in previous immigration bills.
But even with Democrats holding the White House and slender majorities in both chambers of Congress, the bill will probably face months of political wrangling on Capitol Hill and pushback from conservative voters and immigration hard-liners.