By Suzanne Potter, California News Service
Photo: Creative Commons by SA
January 20, 2021 (Sacramento) -- On his first day in office, President Joe Biden is pressing for bold immigration reform, proposing a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants.
The proposal would apply to people who have a clean criminal record and were in the United States before Jan. 1. If approved, this would be the first so-called "mass legalization" since 1986, during the Reagan administration.
Carlos Guevara, associate director for immigration policy for the group Unidos US, said there's a lot of pent-up demand for change in the immigration system.
"We're pleased, and frankly floored a little bit, by how visionary this bill appears to be," he said. "The path to citizenship of eight years - that is the fastest that we have ever seen."
California is home to 2 million undocumented immigrants, 200,000 DACA recipients and 55,000 people who hold Temporary Protected Status - all of whom could benefit from the Biden proposal. Opponents have said it amounts to amnesty for people who have broken U.S. immigration laws.
Cynthia Buiza, executive director of the California Immigrant Policy Center, described herself as "cautiously optimistic" about the bill's potential. She noted that the Biden administration has so many crises to attend to, and his party only has a slim majority in the Senate.
"We're all for it," she said, "but we want a level of seriousness, the political will - because you need to get this policy through Congress."
The proposal also would make everyone eligible for COVID vaccinations, regardless of immigration status. It also would make more people in mixed-status families eligible for pandemic relief, and would implement job protections in industries that employ a lot of immigrant workers.