US president Joe Biden fired the opening salvo in his plan to reform America’s immigration system on Thursday, as Democrats unveiled a sweeping immigration plan.
The Bill would offer a pathway to citizenship for America’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants, including undocumented Irish, while also including new measures to protect “dreamers” – young people who were brought to the United States as children. Other measures, such as reducing the wait times for people abroad seeking to join family in the United States, also form part of the proposal.
But Democrats face an enormous battle to secure support in Congress for the proposed immigration overhaul. Sixty votes are needed in the Senate to pass a comprehensive immigration reform package, while Democrats only control 50 seats.
The last major effort to reform the immigration system occurred in 2013. The proposal passed the Senate but failed to garner sufficient support in the House of Representatives.
This time, the Senate is seen as less amenable to an ambitious immigration reform programme being proposed by the Biden administration.
Although a proposal to expand access to the E3 visa scheme to Irish citizens is not included in the package, it may be considered in some form as negotiations progress on Capitol Hill. One likely possibility is that the plan for comprehensive immigration reform is instead broken up into stand-alone pieces of legislation.
“This Bill will bring the 11 million out of the shadows,” Mr Menendez said as he introduced the legislation, noting that undocumented immigrants would be allowed to apply for green cards and start the naturalisation process after eight years.
He also defended the ambitious nature of the plan.
“We know the path forward will demand negotiations with others, but we are not going to make concessions out of the gate. We’re not going to start with two million undocumented people instead of 11 million. We will never win an argument that we don’t have the courage to make,” he said.
Mr Biden also hinted this week that he would be amenable to a more “targetted” approach to immigration reform, underscoring the expectation that smaller, stand-alone bills may be introduced as the president and his surrogates on Capitol Hill try to secure support for a broader package.
Mr Biden has sought to make a break with his predecessor Donald Trump’s immigration policies since taking office, using executive orders to reverse some of the Trump-era rules such as the travel ban on citizens from some Muslim-majority nations.
Asked about the prospect of the Bill surviving in its current form, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Thursday that Mr Biden believed that “immediate action” on immigration is long overdue. “Modernising our immigration system . . . is a priority for the country.”
But she added that Mr Biden, as a veteran of the Senate, understands the complexities of securing congressional support for legislative packages, and looks forward “to working closely with senators”.