The fate of immigration reform legislation hangs in the balance this week as lawmakers engage in critical meetings to try to hammer out a compromise. After years of failed attempts, 2024 presented a window of opportunity with Democrats controlling Congress and the White House. However, the narrow majorities have emboldened centrist Democrats to make demands, while Republicans remain largely opposed.
As the week unfolds, it remains unclear whether a deal can be struck.
Background of the Immigration Reform Push
Immigration reform has been an elusive legislative goal for decades. The last major overhaul of the system came in 1986 under Republican President Ronald Reagan. Attempts under both Republican and Democratic administrations since then have failed.
The lack of reform has led to a system that many see as broken and inhumane. There are currently an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the shadows in the US. The system also has lengthy backlogs for legal immigration, with applicants often waiting decades for green cards.Upon entering office, President Joe Biden made immigration reform a Day One priority as reported by The Guardian.
He sent legislation to Congress on his first day that would have created an eight-year path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, expanded legal immigration, and increased border security funding.
Where Immigration Reform Stands Now
With Democrats holding slim majorities in both chambers after the 2022 midterms, there was optimism a deal could be reached. The House passed two bills in 2021 protecting Dreamers and farmworkers. Bipartisan groups in both the House and Senate have attempted to hammer out compromise legislation.
Much of the recent energy has focused on providing relief for Dreamers. These are young immigrants brought to the US unlawfully as children. There is significant public support for allowing this sympathetic group to remain in the only country many have ever known.
Centrist Democrat Senator Kyrsten Sinema has now shaken things up by making a series of demands around immigration policy and border security. This led to a breakdown in negotiations last week with the lawmakers who had been leading bipartisan talks.
Critical Upcoming Meetings
This week could determine whether immigration legislation can pass or will collapse entirely.Sinema is set to meet directly with Biden at the White House on Tuesday. Immigrant advocacy groups are pushing Biden to stand firm and not concede to all of Sinema’s demands.
However, given her pivotal swing vote in the 50-50 Senate, the administration may need to incorporate some of what she wants to keep her on board.On Wednesday and Thursday, the bipartisan group of 16 Senators will reconvene after talks broke down last week. The lawmakers had been finalizing details around providing parole and work permits to undocumented immigrants. If the Senators can smooth things over with Sinema and find a middle ground, the effort could proceed. If not, it likely collapses.
What Could Derail Immigration Reform
Even if the bipartisan Senate group reaches an agreement, several factors could still block passage.
- Sinema’s demands – Border security and enforcement have long been sticking points. If Sinema insists on major concessions in these areas, Democrats may walk away.
- Lack of GOP support – Most Republicans remain opposed to legalization for undocumented immigrants. Any deal will need at least 10 GOP Senators to defeat a filibuster. This support is not guaranteed.
- House complications – The House may amend any Senate bill, sending it back for more negotiations. With the 2024 elections looming, time is running short.
While supporters remain cautiously hopeful, the fate of immigration reform very much hangs in the balance. The next several days of talks will determine whether a breakthrough can be achieved after so many past failures. All eyes are on Washington to see if lawmakers can finally improve an immigration system both sides acknowledge is deeply flawed.
Opportunities for Legal Immigration
For those seeking to immigrate legally to the United States, there are a few different options:
Family-based immigration – You may be eligible for a green card (permanent residence) through a qualifying family relationship with a US citizen or lawful permanent resident. Categories include spouses, children, parents, and siblings.
Employment-based immigration – If you have certain skills, education, or work experience sought after by US employers, you may be eligible for one of the employment-based green card categories such as EB-1, EB-2, and EB-3. Employers may also sponsor temporary work visas.
Humanitarian programs – Refugees and asylum seekers fleeing persecution along with victims of crime or human trafficking may qualify for protection and legal status under certain conditions.
Diversity visa lottery – The congressionally-mandated Diversity Immigrant Visa program issues 55,000 green cards annually to applicants from countries with historically low immigration rates to the US.
Citizenship – Permanent residents who meet residency, language, civics, and other requirements may apply to naturalize and become US citizens.
As lawmakers debate reforms, millions await changes that may expand avenues to legally enter, live, and work in America. The outcome of negotiations in the weeks ahead will shape the future of the nation’s immigration system.