The unity presidency is going to use its honeymoon period to advance one of the most divisive, liberal pieces of legislation in the Biden administration’s campaign wish list.
According to NBC News, Biden and House Democrats this week will unveil the “U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021,” an amnesty bill that would allow 11 million illegal immigrants an eight-year path to citizenship and expand the refugee resettlement program.
The bill itself, as well as the timing, promises to be unsurprising but alarming. On his first day in office, Biden laid out his policy prerogatives for immigration reform, most of which had been expected. The administration would back what it called an “earned roadmap” to a green card in five years and full citizenship in eight “if they pass criminal and national security background checks and pay their taxes.”
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Temporary Protected Status recipients could apply for green cards immediately under the proposed legislation. In another three years, they could apply for citizenship if they passed background checks and demonstrated proficiency in English and U.S. civics.
Furthermore, the bill would expand the refugee resettlement program as well as deploy technology on the border, although NBC News didn’t report on specifics. Biden’s roadmap on immigration reform also hinted at amorphous tech to patrol the border, although the focus was primarily on interdicting contraband.
How the bill would get passed was also in question. NBC News said the administration and its allies in Congress were amenable to breaking the reform into smaller pieces, making it easier to pass.
“If certain parts of the bill become building blocks, that’s fine,” Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, told NBC News.
The bill will be spearheaded by Democrat Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey in the upper chamber and Rep. Linda Sánchez of California in the lower, the report said.
“This plan is not only about fixing our broken immigration system, but building a better one that reunites families, brings the undocumented community out of the shadows and on a path to citizenship, stands up for human rights, addresses root causes of migration, and includes a smart border security strategy,” Menendez told NBC.
“From our Dreamers, to the service workers and farmers pulling us through this pandemic, there are too many relying on this reform for us to fail,” Sánchez said in a statement. “I look forward to working with President Biden as well as my House colleagues to finally make our immigration system more functional, fair, and humane.”
The $64,000 question is, will Joe Biden and his party be willing to use the so-called nuclear option — eliminating the filibuster — to get this through the Senate?
It seems to be every day that I get to ask this, but at some point, the Democrats are going to have to question how much political capital they’re willing to expend on policy expeditions that aren’t going to get the 10 Republican senators they’d need to attain the 60-vote minimum.
Much like another pet Democrat proposal — statehood for Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico — there’s almost no chance the GOP would be convinced.
In both cases, there’s an element of electoral cupidity to the equation; beneath the platitudes about fixing a broken immigration system is the base political reality that the plan could add 11 million potential new voters in eight years, most of which they’re counting on to cast ballots for the Democrats. Not only that, but plenty of them are in red states they want to turn purple or blue: Arizona, Florida, Georgia and Texas.
If they’re not willing to use the nuclear option, this is a huge waste of political bandwidth at a time when Congress could be debating issues such as COVID-19 relief.
The Democrats have already indicated a willingness to pass Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief package through the budget reconciliation process, which isn’t subject to the filibuster. Beyond that, everything will require Republican support or die on the vine.
And some GOP senators, including James Lankford of Oklahoma, have signaled that Republican support won’t be forthcoming on the immigration bill.
“There’s common ground,” Lankford said about Biden’s immigration agenda, according to a Jan. 23 Wall Street Journal report.
“The toxic area is when we get into an immigration conversation and suddenly it’s, ‘We’re going to begin with every person that’s entered the country … suddenly becomes a legal citizen here, no matter how they came.’ … That’s a bad starting point, to say the least.”
The common ground could be a bill solely focused on citizenship for DACA recipients, a popular bipartisan subject that involves a much narrower number of roughly 640,000 individuals, who, for the most part, had no agency in entering the country illegally.
When it comes to the agenda Biden is pursuing, there’s almost no chance it ends up passing, at least not without the nuclear option.
If that’s the case, then why even introduce it? To negotiate downward?
Keep in mind that any immigration legislation will be unusually divisive, even by the low standards we’ve become accustomed to. Expect ugly charges of racism and white supremacy to be thrown around.
For a man who talked about unity so often during the campaign, Joe Biden doesn’t seem to have a solid grasp of what the word means.
In the midst of a crisis unlike any we’ve faced since World War II, the administration needs to set priorities. By focusing with laser-like intensity on amnesty for illegal immigrants in his first 100 days, it’s not difficult to tell where those priorities lie.
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