The White House Jan. 25 released a sweeping framework for immigration reform, which offers a decade-long pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million undocumented youth, but also hitting hard on border security and so-called “chain migration” by limiting family reunification to only spouses and minor children.
The proposal did not address employment-based immigration.
The aim of the administration is to “protect the nuclear family by emphasizing close familial relationships,” as noted in the proposal, which was scheduled to be released Jan. 29, but leaked several days earlier. U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents would not be able to sponsor aging parents or siblings over the age of 21.
The administration proposed to apply the changes prospectively, not retroactively, with an emphasis on clearing the backlog of people who have already filed applications. It also proposes to end the diversity visa lottery and re-allocate those visas to reduce the family-based visa backlog.
Indian American attorney Tejas Shah, who leads Franczek Radelet's immigration practice and co-chairs the South Asian Bar Association's immigration panel, predicted there would be a surge of sponsorship applications filed by people who are nervous about possible changes to existing law. “This proposal would be devastating to Indians. Our families are our extended families,” he told India-West.
Shah noted that the framework had received a harsh response from both ends of the political spectrum. Conservative politicians are wary of a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million people, while progressives are concerned about the cuts in family reunification and the emphasis on border security, which includes a $25 billion “trust fund” to build a border wall.
“This is not going to please anyone,” said Shah.
Democrats have already ripped into President Donald Trump for holding undocumented youth hostage in exchange for a border wall.
"Dreamers should not be held hostage to President Trump’s crusade to tear families apart and waste billions of American tax dollars on an ineffective wall," said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin in a press statement. “The White House claims to be compromising because the president now agrees with the overwhelming majority of Americans that Dreamers should have a pathway to citizenship. But his plan would put the administration’s entire hardline immigration agenda – including massive cuts to legal immigration – on the backs of these young people.”
Recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program – DACA – are also known as Dreamers. Earlier in the month, Trump blamed Durbin for a failed DACA deal.
The president ended the DACA program – which provided relief from deportation and work permits to approximately 800,000 youth – on Sept. 5, 2017, and gave Congress six months to come up with a permanent solution before his rescission is implemented.
Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-South Carolina, who had worked out bi-partisan DACA legislation with Durbin last fall, said in a press statement: “President Trump’s support for a pathway to citizenship will help us get strong border security measures as we work to modernize a broken immigration system. With this strong statement by President Trump, I have never felt better about our chances of finding a solution on immigration.”
“I truly appreciate President Trump making it clear that he supports a path to citizenship for DACA recipients. This will greatly help the Senate efforts to craft a proposal which President Trump can sign into law,” said the senator.
Shah told India-West it was disappointing to see that a deal on DACA has still not been worked out, but added that he was hopeful that an agreement could be reached before the deadline.
The White House’s proposal would provide a 10-12 year pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients and those who are eligible for DACA, with requirements for work, education and good moral character. Citizenship status could be revoked if the recipient engages in criminal activity or fraud.