In one of his first moves in office, President Joe Biden released a comprehensive immigration reform bill that would provide a path to citizenship for roughly 11 million people.
The legislation, called the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, would provide an eight-year path to U.S. citizenship.
Undocumented immigrants in the U.S. prior to January 1 would apply for temporary legal status, with the ability to apply for green cards after five years if they pass background checks and pay taxes. Those who would be immediately eligible include Dreamers, Temporary Protected Status holders, and immigrant farmworkers. Then after three years, green card holders that undergo more background checks and demonstrate knowledge of English and U.S. civics could apply to be full citizens.
The bill would also earmark funding to expand English-language instruction and provide assistance to those wanting to become citizens and clear employment-based visa backlogs to improve access to green cards for “workers in lower wage sectors.” Additionally, the bill would reform the family-based immigration system by clearing backlogs and reducing wait times, and instruct the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Labor to create a commission to make recommendations for improving the employment verification process.
The legislation will be of great interest to the food and drink industry as immigrants own 29 percent of all restaurants and hotels—more than twice the share of immigrant ownership of all firms. Restaurants are widely recognized as one of the largest employers of immigrants in the U.S.
“The restaurant industry today reflects the cultural traditions and hard work of immigrants who come to America seeking a better life," said Sean Kennedy, the National Restaurant Association’s EVP of public affairs, in a statement. “They add to the vast diversity that makes our smallest to largest restaurants cornerstones of their communities. The National Restaurant Association continues to support comprehensive immigration reform that expands opportunities for businesses seeking employees and immigrants pursuing the American Dream, and we applaud President Biden for making it a top priority."
Despite Democrats controlling Congress and the presidency, Republicans have already foreshadowed a battle over the proposed bill. Sen. Tom Cotton said that “open borders: Total amnesty, no regard for the health and security of Americans, and zero enforcement.”
Sen. Marco Rubio referred to Biden’s plan as a “non-starter.”
“Before we deal with immigration we need to deal with COVID, make sure everyone has the chance to find a good job, and confront the threat from China,” Rubio said in a statement. “America should always welcome immigrants who want to become Americans. But we need laws that decide who and how many people can come here, and those laws must be followed and enforced. There are many issues I think we can work cooperatively with President-elect Biden, but a blanket amnesty for people who are here unlawfully isn’t going to be one of them.”
In addition to the new bill, Biden signed multiple executive orders that illustrated the same objective. The measures include stopping work on the wall along the Mexican border, voiding the Muslim travel ban, and making sure individuals in the country illegally are included in the 2020 U.S. Census. He also took aim at protecting DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), a law that allows individuals illegally brought to the U.S. as children to defer deportation.
“We encourage Congress and the Administration to provide a pathway for legalization; create an effective essential worker program to meet workforce needs; secure our borders while facilitating efficient travel and tourism; and implement a reliable federal employment verification program,” Kennedy said. “Our industry looks forward to working with all parties to find a unified approach to lasting immigration policies and reforms.”