Yesterday marked the introduction of the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, by Representative Sanchez (D‑CA-38) and Senator Menendez (D‑NJ). The bill is a historic piece of legislation that proposes a pathway to citizenship for 11 million immigrants, including more than 650,000 undocumented South Asians.
Among other things, this bill addresses issues that are fundamental to the wellbeing of South Asian communities, including language that:
- Creates an earned roadmap to citizenship for all 11 million undocumented immigrants, providing Dreamers, TPS holders, and some farmworkers with an expedited three-year path to citizenship, and giving all other undocumented immigrants an eight-year path.
- Reforms the family-based immigration system to keep families together by recapturing visas from previous years to clear backlogs, including spouses and children of green card holders as immediate family members, and increasing per-country caps for family-based immigration. It also eliminates discrimination against LGBTQ+ families, provide protections for orphans, widows and children, and allows immigrants with approved family-sponsorship petitions to join family in the U.S. on a temporary basis while they wait for green cards.
- Updates the employment-based immigration system, eliminating per-country caps, improving access to green cards for workers in lower-wage industries, giving dependents of H‑1B holders work authorization, and preventing children of H‑1B holders from aging out of the system. The bill also creates a pilot program to stimulate regional economic development, and incentivizes higher wages for non-immigrant, high-skilled visas to prevent unfair competition with American workers.
- Supports asylum seekers and other vulnerable populations by eliminating the one-year deadline for filing asylum claims, reducing asylum application backlogs, increasing protections for U visa, T visa, and VAWA applicants, including by raising the cap on U visas from 10,000 to 30,000.
We look forward to the possibilities this legislation presents. However, we also urge Congress to address some of its harmful provisions that exclude immigrants who have been harmed by the racist criminal legal system, and hinder immigrants from accessing health care and other vital services on their path to citizenship.
President Biden and his administration must not only follow through with the above commitments but also transform the immigration system to explicitly account for climate change, religious persecution, and growing right-wing fascism in South Asia.
Amid mass deportations of Black immigrants, the COVID-19 pandemic, and ongoing interior enforcement threats, SAALT will continue to advocate to strengthen the bill and ensure that all immigrants and their families have access to a humane immigration system. A thoughtful immigration policy lifts us all.