Several faith-based immigration advocacy and humanitarian organizations have voiced support for the immigration proposal President Joe Biden sent to Congress on his first day in office Wednesday and the immigration-related executive orders he signed.
However, some conservatives have voiced opposition to the legislative proposal, saying that it opens the door to “mass amnesty.”
The first day in the White House was a busy one for the Democrat as he signed more than a dozen executive orders to rescind many of the Trump administration's policies. But one of the first acts the new president did was send a sweeping immigration reform legislative proposal, known as the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, to the Democrat-controlled Congress.
News of the proposal came as faith leaders, including Hispanic evangelical leader the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, urged in the days before the inauguration for Biden to enact comprehensive immigration reform within the first 100 days.
The text of the bill has not yet been released. But according to reports, Biden’s proposal would provide an eight-year path to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants in the U.S., and would provide expedited citizenship for Dreamers, those who were children when they were brought to the U.S. illegally and are now 39 years old or younger.
The bill would also reportedly provide immediate green cards for recipients of Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals and Temporary Protected Status. According to a factsheet produced by the transition team before the inauguration, the bill would also eliminate the word "alien" from immigration laws and replace it with the term "noncitizen."
Among the executive orders Biden signed, one calls on the federal government to preserve the DACA program, an Obama-era initiative that deferred deportations for immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as young children. The Trump administration tried to halt the program in 2017 in an attempt to push Congress to come up with a legislative fix, but the U.S. Supreme Court prevented the administration from ending the program.
Biden also halted other controversial Trump administration immigration policies, including the repeal of travel bans preventing entry to immigrants from several countries that the Trump administration deemed to be exporters of terrorism. Another order ended the national emergency declared by Trump to fund the construction of the border wall.
World Relief, an evangelical refugee resettlement agency and humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals, applauded the Biden administration for following through on a promise to prioritize immigration reform and for working to provide an earned legalization process for undocumented immigrants. The organization announced in a statement Wednesday that it's encouraged by the “broad thrust” of Biden’s proposal.
“These day-one actions are worth celebrating, and we hope they will be a down payment on further necessary immigration and refugee policy changes,” World Relief President Scott Arbeiter said in a statement shared with The Christian Post.
Reports have suggested that Biden’s legislative proposal could provide a pathway to citizenship for as many as 11 million immigrants in the U.S. illegally. However, activists who favor reducing illegal immigration in the U.S. contend that there are likely more than 14 million undocumented people in the U.S.
“While we urge President Biden to do what he can administratively, ultimately Congress must cooperate on a bipartisan basis if we are to see the long overdue reforms needed to repair our broken immigration system," Arbeiter added. "World Relief, along with our many partner churches and supporters, is eager to help garner bipartisan support in the coming months for a bill that would provide an earned legalization process for undocumented immigrants and meet other priorities.”
World Relief also called on Biden to raise the annual U.S. refugee resettlement ceiling that was drastically reduced during the Trump years. In November, Biden vowed to raise the ceiling to 125,000 refugees that can be resettled in the U.S. during the fiscal year. Under Trump, the ceiling was set at 15,000 for the fiscal year 2021.
Immigration advocates on both sides of the political aisle have for years called on Congress to enact sweeping immigration reform.
Despite the optimism for Biden’s immigration bill among immigration advocates, the legislation reportedly could face a tough battle in a divided Senate and will face opposition from Republicans who object to providing a pathway to citizenship to immigrants lacking legal status.
Among opponents is Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who formerly chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee. He believes Biden’s immigration proposal is tantamount to “mass amnesty.” In a statement shared by Roll Call, Grassley said the bill is “far more radical” than past failed congressional efforts for immigration reform.
“I’ve previously supported immigration proposals that would provide certainty for DACA-eligible individuals and lead to greater border security and more robust enforcement of our immigration laws,” he said. “But a mass amnesty with no safeguards and no strings attached is a nonstarter. As we’ve seen before, that approach only encourages further violations of our immigration laws.”
Tom Lin, president of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, said the campus ministry with chapters at education institutions nationwide is pleased to see the Biden administration consider immigration reform.
“Many of the young people we serve are international and immigrant students, and their navigation of a tedious immigration system can be very stressful, unfair, and disheartening,” Lin said in a statement. “We strongly believe in the biblical value to ‘not mistreat the foreigner’ (Lev. 19:33) and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Lev. 19:34, Matt. 22:39). Public safety and a fair immigration system are not mutually exclusive; as a nation, America can and must do both.”
The Rev. John L. McCullough, president and CEO of Church World Service, another refugee resettlement agency, said in a statement that Wednesday marked the “new beginning for compassionate policy.”
“It is now the duty of Congress to pass this bill and deliver it to President Biden’s desk for his signature,” McCullough said.
Melissa Stek, who works as a justice mobilization specialist with the Christian Reformed Church in North America, praised the move to restore the DACA program, saying that Dreamers “have endured relentless trauma for years.”
“We praise God for this proposal that will provide a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients and Dreamers, finally providing them some long-awaited peace and security,” she said. “We will hold Congress accountable to moving forward with this compassionate and hopeful legislation.”
Stephen Reeves, the associate coordinator for advocacy with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, said in a statement that Dreamers now see a “glimpse of hope into their future.”
“[W]e rejoice with them,” he said. “We have been a part of their sorrow, their struggles, and their suffering. We are committed to working to end the anguish, the doubt, and uncertainty they experience every day under the DACA program.”
Others who've called for the protection of Dreamers in the past include Russell Moore, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, as well as Rodriguez, the head of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
In addition to Grassley, other conservatives in the Senate have spoken out against Biden’s proposals. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas argued that the proposal puts the interests of people in the U.S. illegally before those of American workers.
"It is deeply troubling that most of Joe Biden's first acts as president were to protect illegal immigrants and encourage illegal immigration at the expense of American jobs and workers,” Cruz stated.
“Not only has he chosen to halt construction of a wall on America's southern border and to continue Barack Obama's illegal executive amnesty by preserving the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, but he is promoting open-borders legislation that would gift citizenship to over 11 million illegal immigrants, roll back immigration enforcement, and promote and increase foreign labor at a time when many Americans desperately need work.”