Padilla, Durbin Urge President Biden to Take Executive Action to Provide Relief for Undocumented Immigrants

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety, and U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, led 17 Senate Democrats in requesting administrative relief for undocumented immigrants.

As the Biden Administration considers executive actions on the border, the letter outlines recommendations for executive actions to streamline immigration relief for the undocumented population and DACA holders in the United States.

“We urge your Administration to take all available actions to streamline pathways to lawful status for undocumented immigrants, providing certainty to the American businesses, communities, and families who rely on them,” wrote the Senators.

“Deporting all such individuals — as former President Donald Trump has threatened to do if reelected — would devastate the American economy and destroy American families,” continued the Senators. “Alternatively, streamlining pathways for undocumented immigrants with no criminal history and deep ties to the United States to obtain parole or a lawful immigration status would provide stability to their families, require them to pay taxes, and to check in with the U.S. government regularly.”

Specifically, the letter:

  • Recommends that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) create a process to protect and unify American families;
  • Calls for executive action to permit spouses of Americans to work while their green card cases are pending;
  • Encourages action to streamline the process for DACA holders to change to a nonimmigrant status; and
  • Recommends that the Administration modernize cancellation of removal rules to keep family caregivers together and issue a regulation that a group of Senators encouraged last year.

In 2019 alone, undocumented immigrants contributed an estimated $9.7 billion in federal and state taxes and over $11 billion in social security contributions. Over 1.1 million U.S. citizens are married to an undocumented immigrant, and roughly 4.9 million U.S. citizen children have at least one undocumented parent.

In addition to Padilla and Durbin, the letter is signed by U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Laphonza Butler (D-Calif.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), John Fetterman (D-Pa.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

Senator Padilla is a leading voice in the Senate for immigration reform. He has fought relentlessly to expand pathways to citizenship, including through legislation to expand a pathway to permanency for millions of long-term U.S. residents. He repeatedly condemned the proposed threats to the asylum system and lack of legalization provisions in the national security supplemental aid package considered by the Senate earlier this year, and he called on his colleagues and the White House to include a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers and other long-standing undocumented residents in the supplemental.

Padilla’s bill, the Renewing Immigration Provisions of the Immigration Act of 1929 Act, would update the existing Registry statute so that an immigrant may qualify for lawful permanent resident status if they meet certain conditions, providing a much-needed pathway to a green card for more than 8 million people, including Dreamers, TPS holders, children of long-term visa holders, essential workers, and highly skilled members of our workforce. He also introduced the Citizenship for Essential Workers Act to create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented essential workers, including Dreamers.

Full text of the letter is available here and below:

Dear Mr. President:

We urge your Administration to take all available actions to streamline pathways to lawful status for undocumented immigrants, providing certainty to the American businesses, communities, and families who rely on them.

In 2019 alone, undocumented immigrants contributed an estimated $9.7 billion in federal and state taxes and over $11 billion in social security contributions. Over 1.1 million U.S. citizens are married to an undocumented immigrant, and roughly 4.9 million U.S. citizen children have at least one undocumented parent.

Deporting all such individuals—as former President Donald Trump has threatened to do if reelected—would devastate the American economy and destroy American families. Alternatively, streamlining pathways for undocumented immigrants with no criminal history and deep ties to the United States to obtain parole or a lawful immigration status would provide stability to their families, require them to pay taxes, and to check in with the U.S. government regularly. To implement such streamlining, we urge you to consider the following recommendations.

Protect and Unify American Families. The more than 1.1 million undocumented spouses married to a U.S. citizen have lived in the U.S. on average 16 years, and many have been married to their U.S. citizen spouses for at least a decade. Yet, these families live in fear that they may be separated from their loved one due to deportation, and often forgo much needed health care and decline to report crimes due to their immigration status. The fear of deportation has also been associated with psychological stress linked to an increased risk of chronic disease for children with an undocumented family member.

While U.S. citizens can normally sponsor their spouses for lawful status, our outdated immigration system includes many categorical bars that prevent spouses from obtaining status. As a result of these categorical bars, immigration officers and judges have no discretion to grant relief even in urgent cases. We urge your Administration to return some of this discretion to immigration officials, and create a process to allow undocumented immigrants married to U.S. citizens to seek parole, on a case-by-case basis, if doing so would be warranted for urgent humanitarian reasons or to advance a significant public benefit.

Permit Spouses of Americans to Work While Their Green Card Cases are Pending. Today, some spouses of U.S. citizens applying for a green card must be processed at a U.S. consulate abroad. However, they face significant processing delays, due in large part to backlogs in the provisional waiver program. The provisional waiver process allows individuals who are statutorily eligible for a green card, but need a waiver of inadmissibility, to apply for the waiver in the United States before they depart for their immigrant visa interview at a U.S. consulate. This has allowed many families to achieve stability by streamlining the family-based green card process for eligible individuals.

However, the process has recently been plagued by processing delays, with applications taking a median of 42.4 months to complete. We urge your Administration to take all available steps to reduce processing times for these applications. Please also consider all available options to assist these families and give applicants stability and a chance to work while they wait for an approval, similar to applicants seeking adjustment from within the United States.

Streamline the Process to Change to a Nonimmigrant Status. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program has offered many young undocumented immigrants an opportunity to pursue higher education and meaningful careers. American employers have recognized the benefits of hiring these skilled individuals, and often have sought to sponsor them for a nonimmigrant status that would provide both the DACA holder and the employer with more stability in light of pending litigation to end the DACA program. However, many applicants face processing hurdles when they seek to change status. For example, they often must travel to a consulate to change status and struggle to obtain an appointment during the period of advanced parole granted by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). We urge you to take steps to streamline the process by which DACA holders may obtain another status, such as increasing coordination between the Department of State and USCIS to ensure timely scheduling of appointments for DACA holders seeking to change status.

Modernizing Cancellation of Removal Rules so America’s Family Caregivers Can Stay Together. Last year, we requested that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) issue a regulation to specify that certain nonpermanent residents may be eligible to apply for cancellation of removal without first being placed in removal proceedings under section 240 of the Immigration and Nationality Act. We were pleased to see this proposal on the Unified Regulatory Agenda, and urge DHS and DOJ to issue this regulation. Such a process would help to streamline cancellation of removal cases and increase access to lawful permanent resident status for immigrants who are vital contributors to their American families—often as caregivers to children with acute needs—and our communities.

We appreciate your careful consideration of these recommendations and all available options to provide much needed relief for undocumented immigrants and the American businesses, families, and communities that rely upon them.

Sincerely,

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