Democrats unveiled legislation Thursday for President Joe Biden's plan to create a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants, saying there is no justification for denying them a permanent home in the United States.
Top Democrats said the legislation, blocked for more than a decade by Republicans, is "long overdue," noting that most of those it will address have lived in the country for many years, with homes, businesses and US-born children and grandchildren.
It will offer an eight-year path to citizenship for most of the 11 million.
Some, including people brought to the country as children -- so-called Dreamers -- and farmworkers, will get an immediate path to permanent residence or a "green card," allowing them to work legally.
Others addressed include tens of thousands of people who remained in the United States for years under temporary protected status (TPS) due to violent upheavals or natural disasters in their home countries.
And, underscoring the Biden administration's reversal from former president Donald Trump's strident anti-immigration policies, the legislation also proposes to stop branding undocumented immigrants as "aliens" in US law.
Instead, they will be called the less pejorative "non-citizens."
- 'Moral imperative' -
"It's time to bring all 11 million undocumented out of the shadows," said Democratic Senator Bob Menendez.
"We have an economic and moral imperative to pass big, bold and inclusive immigration reform that leaves no one behind, not our dreamers and TPS holders, not our farmworkers and meatpackers, not our essential workers, not our parents, friends, and neighbors," he said.
Menendez noted that many of them work in farm, food, and healthcare industries that have been essential to keep the country running during the Covid-19 pandemic, risking higher rates of coronavirus infection and death in doing so.
"They are essential workers, so essential that our economy would not function without them. Yet they live under constant fear," he said.
The legislation followed through on Biden's announcement on January 20, his first day in office, to overhaul US policies toward undocumented immigrants as well as people arriving at the US-Mexico border seeking to enter for work or as refugees.
A major focus is the Dreamers, people who were brought to the United States illegally as children and grew up there.
Biden was vice president in the administration of president Barack Obama who sought to open a way to citizenship for the Dreamers, only to be forced to compromise for short-term measures with Republicans.
Obama's successor Donald Trump attempted to reverse the Dreamers program as part of more than 400 executive orders he put through to curb immigration and punish the undocumented.
But it was only partially reinstated, leaving the status of millions uncertain.
Besides offering a pathway to citizenship for millions already living in the United States, Biden wants to take a more forgiving policy at the border, ending Trump's "zero tolerance" approach and reuniting families separated by it.
Menendez called on Democrats to take advantage of their narrow control of both houses of Congress to push through the legislation.
"Time and time again, we have compromised too much and capitulated too quickly to fringe voices who have refused to accept the humanity and contributions of immigrants to our country," he said.
But, echoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, he said it was possible the legislation would move through in separate pieces.