President Joe Biden is presenting a sweeping immigration reform bill to Congress on his first day in office, prioritizing a sharp rebuke to the Trump years. It would award permanent residency to farm workers who have kept the country fed throughout the pandemic, offer a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers – giving hope to one son of farm workers and brother of a Dreamer.
Those who receive green cards would also be fast-tracked for citizenship, part of an effort to provide a path to legal status for more than 11 million undocumented people currently in the US.
The bill, which Biden is introducing within hours of his inauguration, will also incorporate the central feature of legislation that Vice President-elect Kamala Harris introduced as a senator, extending overtime pay to all who toil in the agriculture industry.
To receive permanent residency, temporary agricultural workers – who have spent at least 100 days in four of the last five years working in the US as part of the H-2A visa program – would be eligible for residency if they pass a criminal background check. Residency, among other things, would give potentially hundreds of thousands of farm workers the freedom to leave an abusive employer, something effectively denied them under the H-2A program, where visas are tied to a company sponsor (over 200,000 such visas are issued each year, the vast majority to Mexican nationals).
“This bill is fundamentally different than what any other president has ever done in emancipating farm workers so they can escape pervasive fear and behave like free men and women,” United Farm Workers President Teresa Romero, a member of Biden’s transition team, said in a statement.
A reprieve for Dreamers
As The Washington Post reported on Tuesday, the “centerpiece” of the Biden administration plan is an eight-year path to citizenship for millions of undocumented Americans, providing them temporary status for five years and then a green card for three; those who pass a background check and pay their taxes would ultimately receive citizenship.
In addition to farm workers, those brought to the United States as children, as well as adults who fled natural and human disasters in Central America and elsewhere, would also be eligible to immediately receive permanent residency.
Biden is also poised to issue a slew of executive orders reversing his predecessor’s more controversial policies, such as the de facto “Muslim ban” prohibiting travelers from countries such as Iran, Iraq, Libya, and Somalia. The Post reported that he is also likely to reinstate a program providing temporary legal status to minors from Central America.
The real-world impact of Biden’s proposal, should it become law
Ruben, an 18-year-old college student in Washington, is one of five children born to farm workers who came to the US from Mexico (Insider is withholding his last name due to parents’ undocumented status). He spent summers picking apples and blueberries – backbreaking work that has led him to pursue a career in medicine.
He’s relieved that the Trump era is over. Former President Barack Obama may have deported millions, but Ruben said he did not demonize and instill fear in millions quite like his successor did, “stereotyping Latino immigrants and just yelling out whatever he thought.”
“My grandma was here and she would watch the news every day, “Ruben said, “and she would just panic. We just told her to stop watching.”
Ruben campaigned for Biden, spending over a month in Arizona knocking doors in a state where the Latino vote delivered a knockout to Trump’s hopes for a second term. He’s hopeful that the stress of the last four years can give way to some optimism, purchased with his contribution to getting out the vote. For him, there’s the chance that his family, including an older brother who is a DACA recipient, could stop living in fear.
His parents, however, in the US since 2001, have lived through two rounds of presidents pledging to make the immigration system a little more humane. Still, Biden’s proposal, the most liberal in decades – with two houses of Congress to clear before becoming law – is to them no less than a potential godsend.
“They’re kind of shocked,” Ruben said. “They’re pretty religious, so they just have faith in God that this one’s going to pass.”
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