On his first day in office, President Joe Biden sent the U.S. Citizenship Act to Congress.
This is a sweeping reform of the U.S. Immigration system that will resolve many of the issues that have plagued those looking to make a life in the U.S. The White House explained that its purpose is “to restore humanity and American values to our immigration system.” (1) Most notably, it would develop an eight-year path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants, keep families together, re-establish the United States as a refuge for that fleeing persecution, and improve economic opportunities.(2)
The Law Offices of Nassim Arzani have been helping immigrants navigate the Green Card and Naturalization process for over 17 years. If you or your family are wondering how this reform bill will impact your immigration process, contact her offices in Irvine, Los Angeles, or Riverside at (951) 683-0900.
A Step by Step Approach to the Immigration Reform Bill
In order for this bill to become a law, it must be passed by congress. Unfortunately, it’s unclear as to when and how the Biden administration will push The American Citizenship Act through the Senate. Because of the closely weighted partisan sides, and conservative opposition to many of the immigration reforms, Democrats are treading lightly to avoid the bill being rejected entirely. They’ve decided not to vote on the entirety of this bill, but will instead be voting on vital bills that have previously passed. These are important steps to the rest of the rights that the US Citizenship Act allows for:
These hold life-changing potential for undocumented immigrants in America. The American Dream and Promise Act and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act create security and ultimately paths to citizenship for Dreamers and the essential workers who have risked their lives for all Americans.
About The American Dream and Promise Act
This bill cancels and prohibits removal proceedings against certain immigrants who entered the US as minors, and grants them conditional permanent residence status for 10 years. This includes those who received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, who would be able to apply for conditional permanent resident status. If the immigrant applies and meets certain requirements, such as completing certain programs at an educational institution or serving at least two years in the military and being discharged honorably, they will be eligible for legal permanent resident status (a green card), and ultimately able to apply for citizenship. Similarly, those with Temporary Protected Status would also be eligible to apply for an adjustment of status. If they meet certain requirements, they too will be eligible for a green card, and able to begin their path to citizenship.
Farm Workforce Modernization Act
The Farm Workforce Modernization Act would also give green card eligibility and the opportunity to apply for citizenship after three years to farmworkers who can provide evidence of work history.
This bill allows immigrant farmworkers to apply for status as a Certified Agricultural Worker (CAW) Status, and changes the H-2A temporary worker guidelines. After performing the required number of hours of agricultural labor, maintaining presence in the US, and not being convicted of certain crimes, a non-resident farmworker can file an application for CAW status.
With CAW status, the farmworker has the right to:
- Extend CAW status after 5.5 years
- Obtain dependent status for spouse or children
- Is protected from being detained or deported by DHS while their application is pending
- Apply for legal permanent residence status (a green card) for themselves and their dependents after meeting various requirements.
For H-2A workers, this also means some exciting changes. It ensures that workers will receive minimum wage, and guarantees them a minimum amount of work hours from their employers. It also allows for rental assistance and support from the Department of Agriculture.
What Does the American Citizenship Act Mean for Immigrants in Orange County and Riverside?
The American Citizenship Act goes far beyond these two bills in reforming the immigration system. Besides offering an accelerated path to citizenship for certain undocumented individuals, it offers a sweeping overhaul of the immigration system to improve efficiency and humanitarianism.
The bill further recognizes immigrants by changing the word “alien” to “noncitizen” in our immigration laws.
This bill allows :
Paths to Citizenship
- Undocumented individuals can 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.
- Dreamers, TPS holders, and immigrant farmworkers who meet specific requirements are eligible for green cards immediately under the legislation. After three years, all green card holders who pass additional background checks and demonstrate knowledge of English and U.S. civics can apply to become citizens. Applicants must be physically present in the United States on or before January 1, 2021. (3)
Help for Central America
- Addresses root causes of migration from the south and promises aid to Central America
- Allows Central American Refugees and minors greater opportunity to apply for refugee status.
- Expands refugee and asylum processing, and improves processing, registration, and intake.
- Improves border infrastructure for families and children. Regulates humanitarian and medical standards in USCBP custody, and child welfare at U.S. borders. (4)
Promotes Family Unity
- The bill reforms the family-based immigration system by clearing application backlogs, re-allocating unused visas, reducing wait times, and increasing visa caps.
- Eliminates the “3 and 10-year bars,” and other provisions that keep families apart.
- Makes inclusions for permanent partnerships and LGBTQ+ families. 3109 inclusion of permanent partners
- Immigrants with approved family-sponsorship petitions to join family in the U.S. on a temporary basis while they wait for visas to become available.
- Spouses and minor children of lawful permanent residents are considered immediate relatives. (5)
- Prohibits discrimination based on religion and country of origin and limits presidential authority to issue future bans.
- Diversity Visas are increased from 55,000 to 80,000.
- Allows non-citizen graduates of U.S. universities with advanced STEM degrees to stay in the United States; improves access to green cards for workers in lower-wage sectors; and eliminates other unnecessary hurdles for employment-based green cards.(6)
Hope for Asylum Seekers and Refugees
- Streamlines processing of asylum seekers and addresses immigration court backlogs
- Extends protection of refugees, asylum seekers, and other vulnerable individuals
- Removes time limits for asylum applications to be filed after arrival
- Increases the cap on U Visas from 10,000 to 30,000. It also offers enhanced protection for individuals seeking T visas, U visas, and protection under VAWA.
- Funds resources and educational programs to help immigrants and refugees adjust and thrive in the United states. This includes English-language instruction, and providing assistance to individuals seeking to become citizens.(7)
Protection for Workers
- Protects workers from exploitation and improves the employment verification process.
- Workers who suffer serious labor violations and cooperate with worker protection agencies will be granted greater access to U Visa relief.
- The bill protects workers who are victims of workplace retaliation from deportation in order to allow labor agencies to interview these workers. It also protects migrant and seasonal workers, and increases penalties for employers who violate labor laws. (8)
News about the Naturalization Civics Test
There’s more great news for naturalization applicants: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reverted to the 2008 version of the naturalization civics test on March 1, 2021. This is part of Biden’s Executive Order on Restoring Faith in Our Legal Immigration Systems.
Last year, The Trump administration had doubled the length of the civics test, requiring applicants to answer 12 out of 20 questions correctly to pass.
The 2020 version also increased the number of potential questions from 100 to 128, expanding the amount of information to study in preparation for the exam.
Luckily, the 2008 version is back, and only requires 6 correct answers out of 10 total questions.
- If you filed for naturalization on or after December 1, 2020 and before March 1, 2021, with an initial interview scheduled before April 19, 2021, you will be given the option to take either the 2020 civics test or the 2008 civics test. The 2008 Civic Test is much easier!
- Those who filed their applications on or after March 1, 2021, will be given the 2008 civics test.
- If you’ll be filing your application after April 19, 2021, USCIS will only offer the 2008 civics test, regardless of the filing date.(9) Good luck!
Legal Resources for Immigrants in Orange County
These reforms will make for big changes in the immigration process. And although this bill is a much-needed start to making the immigration system just for all of those who want to pursue the American dream, congressional backlogs and partisan politics may delay these much-needed reforms. If you have traveled outside the United States, been arrested or convicted of a crime, or been ordered removed or deported, we strongly urge you to consult with an attorney due to your underlying immigration consequences. Nassim Arzani has a proven track record of overturning deportation orders, and keeping immigrants safely with their families.
You can read about her successful cases here.
Call (951) 683-0900 to learn she can help you achieve the American dream.
If you have questions about your rights under these pending bills, please contact Nassim Arzani, Esq. During your consultation, she’ll review the intricacies of your case and determine the best way to resolve your immigration issues. With convenient locations in Orange County, Riverside, and Los Angeles, Ms. Arzani is a nationally recognized leader in the field of immigration law.
- The White House. Fact Sheet: President Biden Sends Immigration Bill to Congress as Part of His Commitment to Modernize our Immigration System | The White House. The White House. Published January 20, 2021. Accessed March 10, 2021. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/01/20/fact-sheet-president-biden-sends-immigration-bill-to-congress-as-part-of-his-commitment-to-modernize-our-immigration-system/
- Shear MD. Live Updates: Biden’s Immigration Plan Would Offer Path to Citizenship For Millions. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/02/18/us/joe-biden-news. Published February 18, 2021. Accessed March 10, 2021.
- American Citizenship Act of 2021, H.R. ? 117th Cong. Title I, Subtitle A- Earned Path to Citizenship
- “”Title II – Addressing The Root Causes Of Migration And Responsibly Managing The Southern Border
- “”Title III – Promoting Family Reunification
- “”Title III – Subtitles B-D
- “”Title IV – Immigration Courts, Family Values, And Vulnerable Individuals
- “”Title V Title V Employment Authorization And Protecting Workers From Exploitation
- United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Citizenship Resource Center Homepage. USCIS. Published 2021. Accessed March 10, 2021. https://www.uscis.gov/citizenship