MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Tuesday, February 2nd, 2021. You’re listening to The World and Everything in It and we’re so glad to have you along today. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up, immigration.
It wasn’t a major topic on the campaign trail this year. But after winning the election, President Biden promised to propose sweeping immigration reforms. And he didn’t waste any time.
REICHARD: He did not. The president unveiled his legislative package on his first day in office. Its most controversial proposal? Creating a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people living in the United States without authorization.
WORLD’s Sarah Schweinsberg reports.
CHAVEZ: I’m originally from Mexico. I was born there.
SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: Mary Chavez was 4 years old in 1988. That’s when her parents decided to sneak their family across the border into the United States.
CHAVEZ: And I was raised in California.
Today, Chavez lives in a small Wyoming town with her three daughters and their father, Edgar.
But she lives in constant fear of her family being broken apart.
Chavez is protected by DACA—or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program.
But Edgar doesn’t qualify for the program. He came illegally to the United States when he was older—17.
He’s already been deported once, two weeks after the birth of the couple’s first daughter.
CHAVEZ: He had to go back to Mexico. So it was really hard for me, I ended up in depression and postpartum depression, pretty much.
After several months, Edgar found his way back into the country and reunited with his family.
But Mary Chavez fears he will be deported again, this time for good.
CHAVEZ: I’ve been living in fear of not being able to say we’re here legally, which I mean, we cannot feel safe in our own home without having someone knocking on the door. And it’s going to be, I don’t know, you know, an ICE officer or something like that. And it’s just hard to live in fear. It’s, that’s a feeling that you don’t want for someone else.
Under President Biden’s new proposal, undocumented immigrants could immediately apply for temporary legal status. If they pay taxes for five years and pass a background check, they can apply for green cards. And three years after that, green card holders can apply for citizenship.
The nation’s 650,000 DACA recipients would have a shorter pathway to citizenship. They could immediately apply for green cards and then apply for citizenship three years later.
That also goes for the more than 300,000 people living in the United States under a Temporary Protected Status.
David Bier is an immigration scholar at the Cato Institute. He says it’s about time the government gives undocumented immigrants a way to become citizens.
BIER: We have to do something about the problem of so many people building their lives here over many years, without having the opportunity to become Americans.
But critics of the plan say it would have serious consequences.
HOWELL: It’s the most radical and extreme proposal in American history. I struggle to find an international comparison that would have such an effect.
Mike Howell is a senior adviser at the Heritage Foundation. He says while the proposal is publicly being pushed for humanitarian reasons, it is really about political power.
HOWELL: This is political in the sense that for a very long time, the Left has viewed illegal immigration as a vector for getting more votes, more dependency on government programs and growing the large essence of the government in the welfare state. So this is a political power grab.
Howell argues that if the United States grants citizenship to immigrants who broke the law to come into the country, then more migrants will come to the southern border.
HOWELL: They know they won’t be removed. And they’ll be given, you know, the full suite of benefits of U.S. citizenship and you know, our great economy, our great communities, and all the social services.
Cato’s David Bier agrees that if the federal government doesn’t also reform legal immigration laws then the United States will end up with the same difficult situation down the road.
So far, he says, President Biden’s proposal falls short of broad legal immigration reforms.
BIER: This bill is primarily dealing with family reunification, and highly skilled employment based permanent immigration. It does not address the problem of workers trying to come for lower skilled positions that don’t require a college degree. And that’s really the main driver of illegal immigration.
Bier says to stem the flow of illegal immigration into the country, lawmakers need to make guest worker visas easier to obtain. These visas are for immigrants looking to work in agriculture, meat packing, and poultry processing.
BIER: They came to this country the wrong way. But the U.S. government doesn’t want to provide them with the option to come the right way. And so that’s, that’s the major shortcoming of this bill.
Other immigration advocates are just excited the conversation is getting started.
Ali Noorani heads the National Immigration Forum. He says immigration reform will, of course, move slowly. That’s why lawmakers need to start the debates now.
NOORANI: For President Biden to come right out of the gates and say, Okay, this is my vision for immigration reform, I think invites Republicans and Democrats in Congress to say, Okay, this is, you know, our, our vision for immigration reform.
And while comprehensive immigration reform has historically ended in gridlock, Mary Chavez says her hopes are high this time will be different.
CHAVEZ: I am a really religious person. I’m Catholic. So I pray a lot every time and, and my prayers I’m always asking, you know, Lord, just just touch their heart. And I have my hopes that everything’s gonna change for good.
House and Senate Democrats have vowed to get to work on these immigration issues right away. But they likely will have a hard time getting enough Republican votes to make it past the Senate filibuster.
The Biden administration says it would also support splitting the reform measures into smaller bills that have a better chance of winning 60 votes.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg.