GOSHEN – Two lawyers who specialize in immigration cases are encouraged by President Joe Biden’s proposal to establish an eight-year path to citizenship for undocumented people, though cautiously optimistic.
In one of his first acts as president this week, Biden reportedly sent his US Citizenship Act of 2021 to Congress, which aims to reform the country’s immigration system, with an emphasis on improving the process of obtaining residency and citizenship lies than on the border security. Biden also rolled back some of former President Donald Trump’s immigration priorities when he was inaugurated, including halting the construction of a border wall.
“The idea of having a functioning immigration system again looks promising,” said Lisa Koop, an attorney for the National Immigrant Justice Center, which has an office in downtown Goshen.
Koop sees the new administration’s activities this week as a step to provide better protection for undocumented people and to make the wheels spin a little faster for those looking to reside in the US. Across the city center, attorney Felipe Merino also sees the new legislation as a positive step forward, although he has questions about whether the government could stick to the path the plan envisages given the backlog in the residency process.
“I applaud,” said Merino of the Merino law firm. Adding border security is an important part of the problem that needs to be addressed. “On the other hand, every nation has a right and an obligation to protect its borders and maintain its security.”
The focus of Biden’s bill is on the proposed route to citizenship. According to a text in a fact sheet released on Wednesday, the bill would allow undocumented individuals to apply for temporary legal status, followed by the option to apply for green cards after five years if they pass criminal and national security clearances and show they have done so have taxes paid.
“Dreamers, TPS owners and agricultural workers with a migrant background who meet certain requirements are entitled to green cards immediately after the legislation,” says the fact sheet. “Dreamers” are those who fall under the Deferred Action on the Arrival of Children Program and “TPS” are those with temporary protection status.
Those who are granted residency with green cards can apply for citizenship after three years if they pass additional background exams, as well as the US civics and English language tests. Eligibility would also apply to those who were in the country on or before January 1.
Further provisions in the invoice according to the fact sheet are:
• Eliminating backlogs, recovering unused visas, reducing waiting times, and allowing immigrants with approved petitions for family sponsorship to stay with their families in the US while waiting for their green cards;
• Providing funding to state and local governments and organizations to expand integration and inclusion programs and English courses;
• Protection of migrant workers from discrimination and violations of labor law;
• Make more use of technology and security training for border crossings and improve law enforcement for drug smuggling;
• Addressing the root causes of migration from Central America and supporting asylum seekers.
Koop and Merino see Biden’s bill as an intention to re-focus on moving immigrants through the faster citizenship process.
Koop described the system as a major deadlock in the past four years under the Trump administration. She said applications have been denied for technical reasons and U.S. citizenship and immigration judges have been reassigned, reducing the number of staff available to review and rule on residency applications – a situation in which the waiting time for a decision was extended from about three months to about 14 months, she said.
“The idea that we can have these community members and broader groups of people who are entitled to permanent protection and legal residence in a timely manner is really exciting,” she said.
Merino made a similar report, saying that USCIS courts’ resources were being diverted to border security and enforcement, leading to the backlog. And when the permits expire, people lose their jobs.
“We need to set up a migrant protection office at the border immediately,” said Merino.
Under the new bill, Merino wanted a more efficient system with more manpower to provide medical, mental, legal and social services, as well as officials investigating asylum cases at entry points. He also said the new administration should keep USCIS the fees it generates from applications so that it can remain a self-sustaining agency.
The agency could become more efficient and process work permits faster while residency applications are being reviewed, Merino believes. Improvements would allow immigrants to work, start businesses, buy houses and vehicles, and make investments that would help boost the economy.
“For the past four years we have defended the existence of immigrants in the United States,” said Merino. “Therefore, decades and centuries ago, immigrants were the people who left their country, risking life and limb, leaving their families behind to realize the dream of a better future in America and to create institutions that we have now because of places where they came from Corruption, they came from places where crime and violence threatened their safety and wellbeing. “
Republican lawmakers in Congress have opposed Biden’s proposal, stating that it will not be enough to address border security.
“Our immigration system is broken and both parties need to come together to resolve the problem. Any bipartisan solution must include improving border security, enforcing our laws and addressing the DACA program, “Rep. Jackie Walorski said in a statement. “Unfortunately, President Biden’s unilateral proposal would offer citizenship to illegal immigrants and do nothing to secure our borders.”
Northeast Indiana Rep. Jim Banks and Sens. Mike Braun and Todd Young did not respond to requests for comment.
In addition to his immigration bill to Congress, Biden issued 17 executive orders during his inauguration on Wednesday. Six contracts related to immigration issues, including the suspension of the construction of a border wall that Trump ordered with a review of the contracts for the project. Find a way to protect DACA from legal challenges; and lift the Trump-era ban on Muslim travelers. The Department of Homeland Security also imposed a 100-day moratorium on deportations as part of a review of immigration enforcement guidelines.
“There is really a need to take a step back … and stop the bleeding as we figure out how to rebuild this immigration system in a fair and equitable manner,” Koop said.