US Citizenship Act of 2021

US IMMIGRATION NOTES - Atty. Marco F.G. Tomakin (The Freeman) - February 21, 2021 - 12:00am

Last Thursday, Democratic allies of President Biden introduced a bill in Congress titled the US Citizenship Act of 2021 which sets up the legal structure for Biden’s proposed immigration reforms. In keeping with Biden’s major campaign promise of providing a path for citizenship to undocumented immigrants in the US, this bill provides an eight-year path starting with granting a five-year plan for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants to live, work, and apply for a greencard, then after three years, become eligible for citizenship.

Other major points in this bill are increased funding for immigration courts and utilization of better technology in border enforcement, increasing the number of per country limits on visas for family and immigration-based categories, expedited path for citizenship for Dreamers and farm workers, repealing the three- and 10-year bars, expanding the anti-drug task force in Central America, and using the word “non-citizen” instead of “alien” which, as the administration says, reflects the true values of an America that’s inclusive, non-judgmental, and welcoming.

As much as this bill looks very promising with having both the US House and the Senate under Democratic control, we cannot place too much faith in it. Republicans, even though already the minority, still maintain a real legislative power in stalling this bill. Democrats need 10 more Republican senators to side with them on this. And even one of its principal authors, Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey says that he doesn’t know if he will get 60 votes. He’s even open to a piece-by-piece approach if this major overhaul isn’t palatable.

At this time what’s important is that as early as this stage of the Biden presidency, the issue of immigration reform is already front and center in the political arena. It takes a lot of courage for the Democrats to spend so much political capital this early at an issue so fraught with many risks. If he can pull this off, this could be Biden’s major and significant legacy, just as healthcare was Obama’s.

* * *

COVID-19 cases have been steadily rising with no signs of abatement. These numbers will never go down if these two factors continue:

Number 1: People are still undisciplined in obeying COVID protocols. As one friend told me, it doesn’t matter whether one is rich or poor, educated or not, Cebuanos still continue to flaunt the rules on masking, social distancing, etc.

Number 2: Our political leaders continue to bicker with each other, sending contradictory positions and seemingly having no cohesive and coherent plan on handling this pandemic. We are almost one year already into this crisis and yet our leaders look like they still don’t know what they are doing. Mayor against his own vice mayor; Cebu City possibly going back to General Community Quarantine while the provincial government vehemently imposes a no-lockdown stance, not testing the asymptomatics despite science saying otherwise, and press releases about vaccine availability yet with no concrete action to show for it. All these lead to the Cebuanos’ ever-growing confusion and lack of trust in their officials. In a health crisis where the government demands that people gives up a few of their constitutional rights for the common good, trust is all the more essential. It cannot expect that people will blindly follow its mandates when they see infighting, mismanagement, and lack of direction from their leaders.

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