The Citizenship Act of 2021: DACA Recipients and the Struggle to Define a Future

In the past few months, we’ve been reporting on the changes in immigration laws attempted and sought by the Biden administration. Much of these changes are still moving through the pipeline. One of the proposed changes the administration seeks includes a pathway to citizenship for many dreamers and others. And yet as immigration discussions shift, many wonder how exactly this process comes to fruition. In this month’s post, we’ll discuss the process of change to the immigration system and some of the other provisions proposed thus far in The Citizenship Act of 2021. 

The Role of the Federal Government in Immigration Policy 

It seems that every time there is a presidential election, discussions about immigration policy come to a head. Certainly, a new administration will have a lot of say over the pendulum on immigration, the enforcement of laws, and so on, but it’s certainly not the only authority over immigration changes. 

Immigration laws are drafted and completed by Congress, passed by both Houses, and then move up to the Executive branch. Over the years, however, changes by executive order, for example, have been used to affect immigration policy. The most well-known example is DACA signed by President Obama, which was done without Congress and via executive order.

The Problem With Executive Orders 

Not only do executive orders tend to override Congress, but they are also not a great way to make law due to their vulnerability to election shifts. In other words, if one President signs something into law via executive order it can just as easily be reversed by the next President. 

Ideally, Congress will work together to achieve a bipartisan law that will then pass through its chamber and onto the Senate. Regardless of careful drafting of legislation, there are always inevitable disputes or confusion about interpretations, that’s when the U.S. courts might step in. In this way, Federal Courts often have weighed in and contributed to how U.S. immigration law is interpreted.  

A person can, for example, challenge an immigration law through the courts and through that process effectively have an impact in changing U.S. immigration law. According to the National Immigration Law Center, the agencies that enforce immigration laws also have the ability to investigate, arrest, detain, charge, and prosecute and have what is known as ‘prosecutorial discretion’ that allows them 

Agencies Involved with Immigration Enforcement 

Several agencies are also involved in the enforcement of the  United States immigration policy. Some of the other agencies that are involved with the immigration process include: 

  • Department of Homeland Security: DHS is responsible for protecting U.S. borders and guarding them against potential threats.  
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services: The agency that processes immigration applications. 
  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement: ICE is an enforcement agency that protects the U.S. from cross-border crime and curbs illegal immigration. 
  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection: As part of this agency, the Border Patrol assists with the protection and enforcement at our borders. 

The U.S. Citizenship Act — Seeking to Provide a Path to Citizenship 

One of the bills put forward in early 2021 was known as the U.S. Citizenship Act. As the name suggests, the bill is focused on providing a path to citizenship to people that fall under several categories. 

The bill includes: 

A Citizenship Path component: 

  • Create a path to citizenship: This provision applies to the Dreamers and holders of Temporary Protected Status, and farmworkers that meet certain requirements.
  • An 8-year path to citizenship to certain persons. This applies to people that were deported on or after 2017 and had resided in the United States for three years before they were deported. Their status should be of someone that is part of a family unit or whose status is related to other humanitarian purposes. The Department of Homeland Security is the deciding agency on this aspect. 
  • People that arrived in the U.S. before January 1, 2021, might be eligible for Lawful Prospective Immigrant (LPI) status. Once these individuals have remained with LPI status for five years, they are able to apply for green cards. After three years on a green card, people under this status could then apply for citizenship. 

If you are a DACA recipient or qualify for any of the above categories, you may see a change in immigration policy that paves a path to citizenship for you. The Citizenship Act of 2021, however, must first go through the rigorous process of becoming U.S. law. 

Looking for Answers on Your Immigration Status and Future? Find a Reliable Immigration Attorney 

Here at Anable & Rivera, we assist people in figuring out their immigration situation. Given the changes in the past couple of years, the situation can be difficult to understand and navigate. 

That’s why we are here. If you are a DACA recipient or immigrant, contact our office and find out how we can help you.