As soon as President Joe Biden stepped foot in the White House, he signed numerous executive orders, including one that calls on Congress to pass the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021.
Biden's immigration plan would offer millions of undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship, including an estimated 595,000 in the Mountain West, according to data from the American Immigration Council, a nonprofit advocacy group.
The bill would allow noncitizens to apply for green cards if they pass criminal and national security background checks and pay their taxes.
The act would also grant citizenship to tens of thousands of DACA recipients. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program currently grants immigrant children a temporary work permit and protection from deportation.
In the Mountain West, there are more than 44,000 DACA recipients, according to AIC's count.
The bill would make DACA recipients eligible for green cards, and after three years, they could apply for citizenship as long as they pass additional background checks and demonstrate knowledge of U.S. civics, among other requirements.
Josh Ryan, a political science professor at Utah State University, says Biden's plans will need bipartisan support.
“Any immigration plan that he wants to get through Congress is going to require the support of Republicans, which means they're going to have to get 60 senators to go along with his proposal,” Ryan said.
Ryan says Biden could pass executive orders to support his immigration reform priorities, like President Barack Obama did with the DACA program. But those orders aren't as durable as legislation.
“If it comes to court cases that have to do with executive action on immigration, we might expect more conservative rulings than what the Supreme Court has issued in the past,” Ryan said.
He added: “There is no substitute to passing a law in Congress. The main goal here is to solve this problem once and for all.”
The last time major immigration reform was signed into law was more than three decades ago under President Ronald Reagan. The Department of Homeland Security last week announced a 100-day pause on deportations, effective Jan. 22, to allow the agency to “review and reset enforcement policies.”
The Biden administration is also working to help prevent further discrimination by removing the word “alien” from immigration laws. The bill would describe undocumented people as "noncitizens" instead.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.