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Maria Ramirez Uribe
By Maria Ramirez Uribe February 26, 2024

Biden promised citizenship to immigrants illegally in the U.S. Three years later it hasn’t happened.

Border officials have encountered a historically high number of immigrants crossing the border illegally during President Joe Biden's administration. These record-breaking statistics have been used to criticize Biden's management of the border and to impeach his Department of Homeland Secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas. They've also derailed some of the promises Biden made during his 2020 presidential campaign. 

Biden promised to create a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. On his first day in office, Biden proposed a bill that would have done that, but the bill didn't go anywhere. Three years later, the promise remains unfulfilled.

In February, a bipartisan group of senators unveiled an immigration bill intended to reduce illegal immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border. Biden said he would sign it into law if it reached his desk. 

But the bill, which failed in the Senate with a 49-50 vote, did not include a path to citizenship for people living in the U.S. illegally. Instead, it sought to raise the initial asylum screening standard and created an emergency power to essentially deny asylum to people crossing the U.S. border between ports of entry. 

The prospect of Biden signing a bill granting a pathway to citizenship seems unlikely in a Republican-controlled House. We'll continue to monitor this promise, but for now, we rate it Stalled.

Maria Ramirez Uribe
By Maria Ramirez Uribe January 18, 2023

Biden stalls on citizenship promise for 11 million immigrants illegally in the US

President Joe Biden's chances of signing legislation that fulfills his promise to provide a path to citizenship for 11 million immigrants in the U.S. illegally have dwindled now that Republicans control the House of Representatives. 

On his first day in office, Biden proposed the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 to provide a citizenship path for farmworkers and immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children and for beneficiaries of Temporary Protected Status. House Democrats introduced the bill in February 2021, but it did not advance.

Because budgetary bills don't require a 60-vote majority in the Senate, Democrats set their sights on the fiscal year 2022 spending bill as an avenue to pass a pathway to citizenship for the same group of immigrants in the 2021 citizenship act. But the Senate's parliamentarian, who decides what can and cannot be included in the budget reconciliation process, ruled against the Democrats' three attempts to include immigration reform in the bill. 

After the November midterm elections, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., introduced an immigration bill that would have strengthened border security and provided a path to citizenship for some immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children. The proposal, which would have needed 60 votes, did not advance to the Senate floor.

After visiting the southwest border Jan. 9, a bipartisan group of senators — including Cornyn and Sinema — said they would once again discuss an immigration bill. But with Republicans in charge of the House, the possibilities of a bill granting a path to citizenship are limited, said Theresa Cardinal Brown, managing director of immigration and cross-border policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Republicans in Congress are pushing for more resources and security at the border, while Democrats seek paths to citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally. But neither party has enough votes to pass the bills they want.

"The bridge between the parties on some of these issues has grown wider and harder to make the necessary negotiations and concessions to get enough votes from the other party to pass legislation," Cardinal Brown said.

Immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children are more likely to benefit from legislation, said Cardinal Brown. Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have generally expressed support for this group of immigrants. The U.S. Supreme Court this year is expected to rule on the legality of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Obama-era program that protects certain young immigrants from deportation.

The possibility of a bill providing 11 million immigrants with a path to citizenship is limited, especially with Republican control of the House.

We rate this promise Stalled.

Our Sources

Phone interview, Theresa Cardinal Brown, Managing Director of Immigration and Cross-Border Policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center, Jan. 18, 2023

Email exchange, Kathleen Bush-Joseph, Associate Policy Analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, Jan. 18, 2023

CNN, Democrats place all bets on third attempt to include immigration in economic bill, Nov. 4, 2021

NPR, In A Blow To Democrats, Senate Official Blocks Immigration Reform In Budget Bill, Sept. 19, 2021

Los Angeles Times, Immigration reformers' hopes dashed as Senate fails to act, Dec. 22, 2022

Fox 61, Sen. Murphy hopes for 'common ground' on immigration reform following trip to border, Jan. 11, 2023

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Temporary Protected Status, accessed Jan. 18, 2023

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), accessed Jan. 18, 2023


Miriam Valverde
By Miriam Valverde February 23, 2021

Democrats advance Joe Biden’s campaign promise of pathway to citizenship

Democratic lawmakers have introduced a bill to advance President Joe Biden's campaign promise to create a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants living in the United States illegally.

The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 would offer an expedited three-year path to citizenship to some farmworkers, so-called Dreamers (immigrants who arrived here illegally when they were children) and people who currently benefit from a Temporary Protected Status designation.

Including spouses and minor children of the eligible immigrants, nearly 3.3 million people would be on track for the expedited path to citizenship, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank.

Other immigrants without legal authorization to be in the country would be on a longer, eight-year path to citizenship, provided they pass background checks and pay taxes.

The congressional effort is led by Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif. In a Feb. 18 statement, Biden applauded the proposal.

"I look forward to working with leaders in the House and Senate to address the wrongdoings of the past administration and restore justice, humanity and order to our immigration system," Biden said. "This is an important first step in pursuing immigration policies that unite families, grow and enhance our economy, and safeguard our security."

We did not find statements from Republicans in Congress publicly supporting the proposal.

Republican lawmakers have previously expressed support for a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who were brought to the country as children. But Republicans have been more reluctant to support a bill that benefits a broader group of immigrants. Rep. John Katko, the top Republican in the House Committee on Homeland Security, said the new bill fell short on border security and called it "more of a symbolic marker than a viable product for congressional debate."

Beyond providing a pathway to citizenship, the bill also seeks to reduce visa backlogs, eliminate per-country admission caps, get rid of the one-year deadline for filing asylum claims, and expand access to some visas, including the U visa available to victims of certain crimes who assist law enforcement investigations.

The bill also aims to advance another Biden campaign promise to help Central American nations address the factors driving migrants out of their countries. The proposal calls for funding to improve infrastructure at ports of entry and to secure the border through the use of technology.

Whether the bill gains enough support to become a law is still to be determined. For now, given the introduction of the proposal in Congress, we rate this promise In the Works.

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