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How Joe Biden's immigration plan works, and what it would mean for California

How Joe Biden's immigration plan works, and what it would mean for California

  • Updated

President Joe Biden on his first day in office sent Congress an extensive immigration proposal that could have big implications for California, which is home to the largest undocumented immigrant population in the nation.

The plan, known as the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, would provide a pathway to citizenship to the 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the United States. About 2 million of them live in California.

Biden's proposal would have the biggest repercussions for recipients of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and temporary protected status (TPS) holders, said Kevin R. Johnson, dean of the UC Davis School of Law.

"This is the state with the largest number of immigrants in the United States, the largest number of undocumented immigrants in the United States," Johnson said. "It's going to have the biggest impact in California."

Does it protect undocumented workers?

The bill would allow undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. to apply for temporary legal status. After five years, those immigrants could apply for green cards under Biden's proposal. To apply, applicants must be physically present in the United State before January 2, 2021.

Biden's proposal also seeks to eliminate the "3 and 10-year bars." Undocumented immigrants who illegally stay in the U.S. for more than six months, but less than a year, can be barred from returning to the U.S. for three years. Immigrants who illegally stay in the U.S. for more than a year can be barred from the U.S. for up to a decade.

What about DACA recipients and TPS holders?

Eligible DACA recipients, TPS holders and immigrant farmworkers who meet certain requirements could be granted green cards immediately, according to the plan.

The proposal would also allow eligible green card holders, who pass background checks and demonstrate knowledge of the English language, a pathway to citizenship after three years. To apply, applicants must physically be in the United States before Jan. 2.

Is it the same as President Obama's proposals?

Releasing an immigration bill on his first day of office signifies Biden will prioritize the issue of immigration reform more closely compared to former President Barack Obama, according to Johnson.

Furthermore, in an effort for the Biden administration to intentionally recognize "America as a nation of immigrants," the term "noncitizen" will replace "alien" in the country's immigration laws under the proposed bill.

"That's a symbolic change, but it matters," said Caitlin Patler, an associate professor of sociology at UC Davis.

What does it mean for the economy?

Biden's bill could heavily impact California's economy.

Legalization programs like DACA, according to Johnson, have been shown to "contribute immensely" to the state economy.

"Economists would tell you that legalization is a net benefit to the economy because it benefits immigrants to be more productive economic actors and allows them to participate lawfully in the economy," he said, adding that the state places a heavy reliance on undocumented labor in the agricultural, construction and service industries.

"The agricultural economy in the state is huge," Johnson said, "and that industry relies on undocumented workers working for relatively low wages in very difficult conditions."

What do opponents of Biden's bill say?

The Federation for American Immigration Reform, a D.C.-based group that seeks to reduce immigration to the U.S., on Wednesday said Biden's immigration efforts could lead to more competition for jobs in the wake of global pandemic and cause further division in the nation.

"We hope fervently that when it comes to dealing with immigration, the new administration will seek to find common-sense policies that not only serve to enhance the economic recovery from COVID, but provide lasting security and prosperity for the country," said Dan Stein, president of the organization, in a prepared statement. "President Biden must protect American jobs and not capitulate to special interests pushing radical policies that put Americans last."

What about deportations and enforcement?

The Department of Homeland Security on late-Wednesday night revealed a 100-day moratorium on deportations for certain noncitizens starting on Friday, Jan. 22.

The bill, Patler said, also opens the door to other changes, like revoking a 2017 executive order by Trump that eliminated enforcement priorities, leading to the expansion of the number of unauthorized immigrants at risk for deportation.

"Immigrant communities in our state can be optimistic, but also cautious," she said. "That's where we see the rubber hit the road. Are our family members still going to be taken away by ICE? Do people still need to live in fear?

The bill seeks to provide funds to the Department of Homeland Security and requests that the FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency improve and expand anti-gang task forces across Central America.

Additionally, Biden's bill would allocate $4 billion to address the causes of migration and assist Central American nations like Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, "conditioned on their ability to reduce the endemic corruption, violence, and poverty that causes people to flee their home countries."

Will it pass?

Don't expect Biden's sweeping immigration proposal to be implemented anytime soon. The bill is subject to provisions and lengthy debate among congressional leaders.

"I think it's going to be a long political road that we follow before we get some kind of reform," Johnson said. "It's going to be a challenge."


Democrat Joe Biden was sworn in as president of the United States on Wednesday, vowing to end the 'uncivil war' in a deeply divided country reeling from a battered economy and a raging coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 400,000 Americans.


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