Immigration Reform Push Begins as Executive Order Preserves DACA

January 22, 2021

The Biden administration issued an executive order preserving the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program while proposing a sweeping immigration reform bill that addresses DACA, employment-based visa backlogs, and wages for H-1B workers. 

The EO directs the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Attorney General to take all appropriate actions under law to preserve and fortify DACA.  Other immigration actions include ending the travel ban on certain Muslim-majority countries, rescinding the national emergency used to secure funds for the Mexico border wall, and resetting immigration enforcement priorities.

However, a federal judge in Texas is considering arguments in a case questioning DACA’s legality.  If Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and several other state attorneys general are successful, the program will be dismantled over the next two years.  “If the nation truly wants to have a DACA program, it is up to Congress to say so,” Judge Hanen wrote in a previous ruling.

President Biden is sending a sweeping immigration reform measure, the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, to Congress.  Among other things, the bill would: 

  • Grant Dreamers, Temporary Protected Status holders, and immigrant farmworkers who meet specific requirements immediate green card eligibility. 

  • Incentivize higher wages for non-immigrant, high-skilled visas.

  • Allow undocumented individuals to apply for temporary legal status, with the ability to apply for green cards after five years if they pass criminal and national security background checks and pay their taxes.

  • Provide dependents of H-1B visa holders work authorization, while preventing children from “aging out” of the system.

  • Clear employment-based visa backlogs, recapture unused visas, reduce wait times, and eliminate per-country visa caps.

  • Establish a pilot program to stimulate regional economic development, by giving DHS the authority to adjust immigrant visa numbers based on economic conditions. 

HR Policy has supported Dreamers and federal legislation enshrining DACA into law.  The Association joined several other business groups in urging the Biden administration and Congress to “quickly provide a pathway to citizenship that would allow Dreamers to stay in the U.S. and become fully integrated into our communities.” 

Outlook: Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who will introduce the bill, called passing immigration reform through the Senate “a Herculean task,” as demonstrated in previous failed efforts.  Ten Republican Senators are needed to overcome the Senate filibuster and move to a vote on the legislation.  Meanwhile, several key Republicans including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are calling the amnesty provision a nonstarter.