• Yilun Cheng

Biden Immigration Bill Faces Tough Road

Photo Credit: AFP. President Joe Biden has made immigration reform part of his legislative agenda.

Joe Biden might have said “unity” eight times in his inaugural address, but Republicans are already coming out against one of his most anticipated proposals –– a reform bill that would grant a pathway to citizenship to millions of undocumented immigrants.

On his first day in office, the newly inaugurated president delivered on his campaign promise to undo some of Donald Trump’s anti-immigration legacy, issuing a series of executive orders to end the Muslim travel ban, extend the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and revoke Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency at the border, among others.

Now comes the challenging part.

Last Wednesday, Biden sent to Congress the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, which would offer an eight-year path to legalization for the nation’s approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants. The bill also lays out a number of other ambitious measures, including a $4 billion aid package to Central America to address the root causes of migration, and a provision to allow DACA and Temporary Protected Status recipients to immediately apply for permanent legal residency.

GOP lawmakers, as expected, attacked the proposal immediately. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) called the bill a “non-starter.” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) tweeted that the reform has “no regard for the health or security of Americans.”

Even Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) –– two of the only remaining “Gang of Eight” GOP members involved in the drafting of the 2013 comprehensive immigration bill –– expressed that a reform at this scale is simply unrealistic. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the bill’s Senate sponsor, was certainly on point when he said that getting the proposal through Congress would be a “herculean task.”

Its prospects look even grimmer considering the failure of Congress to approve any major immigration reform in the past. The “Gang of Eight” bill, for example, set out an avenue for immigrants to obtain legal status and, at the same time, promised increased border security as a balancing element.

Still, Republican leaders blocked it from ever reaching the House floor. It surely helps that Democrats are now in control of both chambers. But it is hard to imagine that Biden’s new bill, offering virtually no compromises to the other side, would garner enough support to get through a highly divided Congress.

It is also fair to ask why a comprehensive immigration reform bill was never a priority for the Obama-Biden administration in 2009. In fact, immigrant rights advocates have famously labeled Barack Obama “deporter in chief” for authorizing harsh penalties against unauthorized border crossers and pushing for formal removals, as opposed to voluntary returns. How can we not take Biden’s bold assertions with a grain of salt?

While it is true that more than 80 percent of all Americans favor granting undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship, the xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiments that Trump has propagated and emboldened over the past four years will not disappear overnight. It is now up to Biden to decide whether he will give in to right-wing opposition, as Obama did, or push for a humane immigration system as aggressively as Trump has tried to tear it down.

Immigrants have had their hopes up in the past, only to be let down. It is possible that Biden’s presidency will mark a turning point in America’s anti-immigrant legacy. But it is too early to celebrate just yet.