What You Need to Know About Pathways to Citizenship in Congress Right Now
Posted April 2021
On his first day in office, President Biden announced the US Citizenship Act, which would overhaul our immigration system and create a path to citizenship for most undocumented immigrants.
Creating that pathway is the north star of our immigration work. Unfortunately, passage of the US Citizenship Act in the current Congress is very unlikely—there are simply not enough votes to overcome a Senate filibuster.
Instead, we are focusing on smaller bills that would create legal status for narrower subsets of the undocumented population: Dreamers, TPS holders, farmworkers, and frontline workers. Several of these narrower bills have already passed the House and will be brought up for a vote in the Senate. If they fail to receive the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster, they may be folded into a larger budget reconciliation package, a process that circumvents the filibuster because it requires only a simple majority vote. If successful, millions of undocumented immigrants will finally have access to legal status and eventually citizenship. Here’s what you should know about each of these bills:
Dream and Promise Act
The Dream & Promise Act would give up to 4.4 million Dreamers, TPS, and DED recipients the ability to earn permanent legal status in the US.
The Dream and Promise Act of 2021—led by Representatives Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Velázquez (D-NY), and Clarke (D-NY)—passed the House with the support of all Democrats and nine Republicans. The bill would:
- Give up to 4.4 million Dreamers, TPS, and DED recipients the ability to earn permanent legal status in the US.
- Grant DACA recipients an expedited process to receive green cards and eventual citizenship through employment, education, or military service.
- Grants a path to citizenship to Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) holders.
Different iterations of the DREAM Act have been introduced in every Congress for the last two decades. Noteworthy changes in this version include:
- Allowing eligible Dreamers deported under the Trump Administration to apply for relief from abroad.
- Expanded eligibility for Dreamers, which is achieved by adjusting the qualifying age of entry into the U.S. to include 18-year-olds and expanding the continuous presence requirement to include all those present in the US on or before January 1, 2021.
- Criminal and gang-related bars that are more restrictive than those in the Durbin-Graham Dream Act of 2021 and the US Citizenship Act. Their last-minute inclusion caused some advocacy groups to pull support for the bill who claim that it is heavily reliant on a criminal justice system that discriminates against Black and Brown people. These restrictions are sure to be subject to ongoing debate and could be modified when the Senate takes up the bill.
The Farm Workforce Modernization Act
A majority of the country’s estimated 2.4 million farmworkers are undocumented; the Farm Workforce Modernization Act would grant them a way to obtain legal status and workplace protections.
The Farm Workforce Modernization Act (FWMA) passed the House with the support of all but one Democrat and 30 Republicans. The bipartisan bill was introduced by Rep. Lofgren (D-CA) and Rep. Newhouse (R-WA); Sen. Bennet (D-CO) and Sen. Crapo (R-ID) are expected to introduce the bill in the Senate. A majority of the country’s estimated 2.4 million farmworkers are undocumented; this bill would grant them a way to obtain legal status and workplace protections. More specifically, it would:
- Grant temporary legal status to undocumented agricultural workers who have worked 180 days or more over the last two years. That status can be renewed indefinitely if the individual continues working in agriculture for at least 100 days per year.
- Grant green cards to undocumented agricultural workers, if:
- They agree to work in the US agricultural industry for an additional four years if they have completed ten or more years of agricultural work at the time of application.
- They agree to work in the US agricultural industry for an additional eight years if they have completed fewer than ten years of agricultural work at the time of application.
- Reform the H-2A visa program to safeguard against worker exploitation and streamline the visa process to ensure there is an adequate workforce for farmers.
- Establish a mandatory, nationwide E-Verify system for all agricultural employment, a system that would be gradually phased in after all legalization measures and H-2A reforms have been implemented.
Citizenship for Essential Workers Act
If passed, the Citizenship for Essential Workers Act would make an estimated 5.2 million people eligible for legal status and eventual citizenship.
The Citizenship for Essential Workers Act was introduced by Sens. Padilla (D-CA) and Warren (D-MA) in the Senate; Reps. Castro (D-TX) and Lieu (D-TX) introduced the same bill in the House. Neither chamber has voted on the legislation yet, and this bill faces slimmer odds than the Dream & Promise Act or the FWMA. If passed, an estimated 5.2 million essential workers would be eligible for legal status and eventual citizenship.
The bill uses a broad definition of essential worker and includes those who worked in essential industries but lost their jobs due to COVID-19 as well as the parents, spouses, and children of essential workers. It excludes some otherwise covered immigrants based on criminal history.
Call your senators.
Urge them to vote yes on the Dream & Promise Act and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act and to support the Citizenship for Essential Workers Act