President Joe Biden is expected to announce legislation this week that would overhaul the country’s immigration laws.
The bill will reportedly propose an eight-year pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. as of Jan. 1, 2021, as well as expedite green card access for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. It would also boost funding for border security technology.
The plan comes after a chaotic four years for immigration activists and lawyers under the Trump administration.
“It was so confusing. One day you must file this extra form, next day you don’t, and again and again. DACA got restated, and again stopped, and again restated,” said Jose Ventura, the legal director at Centro Romero, an immigrant and refugee advocacy group in Chicago.
Ventura and other advocates across Chicago are praising the incoming president, and say they’re optimistic that the harsh attitude toward immigrant communities from the White House is a thing of the past.
That includes Natividad Hernandez with the Frida Kahlo Community Organization in Chicago’s Gage Park neighborhood, which works with many undocumented families on the city’s Southwest Side.
“It’s a time of joy for us,” Hernandez said. “Since (Biden) won, we just started seeing things changing. I guess we just don’t feel under attack, like before. I think everybody at this point is just welcoming the feeling … we used to be under the ground, and with the changes, I’m overwhelmed.”
Biden’s legislative proposal has gotten significant pushback from some Republican politicians, but it’s also receiving praise from certain conservatives.
“What pleases me most as a constitutional conservative is that the proposal is to go through Congress,” said David Applegate, an attorney and member of the conservative and libertarian legal organization The Federalist Society. “The more the parties work together to pass legislation, the happier I think we will all be.”
Applegate says he was also encouraged to see additional funding for enhanced border security outlined in Biden’s plan. The proposed legislation would prioritize “smart border controls” with the goal of improving technology and operations at border crossings and ports.
Other local immigrant advocates have praised Biden’s proposal, but say it should be seen as a first step toward a comprehensive immigration overhaul.
“I think it’s a great beginning to address a more humane and just immigration system,” said Mary Meg McCarthy, executive director of the National Immigrant Justice System. “However, I caution Congress to act quickly, but in the meantime, the executive branch needs to act to protect our families and our communities. I’m very concerned that it’s going to take Congress some time to move this forward.”
Biden did sign several executive orders Wednesday relating to immigration issues, including one preserving DACA.
McCarthy says she’d like to see the administration go further, including issuing a moratorium on deportations to address the immigration detention system.
“For those currently in jail, they are at risk, especially now with COVID. So we need to think of a comprehensive system right now through the administration, to stop the deportations and to ensure people are able to have a fair day in court,” she said.