Congressional Democrats on Feb. 18 introduced a comprehensive immigration bill, backed by the Biden administration, that aims to create a new path to citizenship for undocumented workers while strengthening the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.

The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021—which is sponsored by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.)—would provide undocumented immigrants with an eight-year path to citizenship. Undocumented immigrants residing in the U.S. by Jan. 1, 2021, would be eligible for five-year temporary status. After that, they can apply for a green card, which is a three-year process.

DACA recipients and immigrants in the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program would be eligible immediately to apply for a green card under the proposed legislation.

[View summary of bill here.]

Stephen Sandherr, Associated General Contractors of America chief executive officer, praised provisions of the bill that he says will protect the legal status of thousands of current workers and create legal options for others.

“By proposing to protect the legal status of so-called 'Dreamers' and immigrants participating in the Temporary Protected Status program, the measure will allow more than 100,000 people to continue working lawfully in the construction industry,” Sandherr said in a statement. “In addition, the bill’s efforts to provide a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants will, if enacted, help eliminate the exploitation of undocumented workers by unscrupulous employers that puts our member firms at an unfair competitive disadvantage.”

However, AGC noted that the bill did not include a year-round, work visa program for construction workers. AGC has lobbied in recent years for such a provision.

Sandherr says the bill, as written, would “make it likely that many more will seek to enter the country unlawfully, especially in times of strong economic growth." He adds, "The measure’s whistle blower provisions create perverse incentives for undocumented workers to make unsubstantiated workplace allegations simply to secure protected status within the domestic workforce.”

The bill is in line with  several provisions that President Biden laid out in a directive he signed on his first day in office, which called for sweeping changes to federal immigration policy.

[View ENR 1/20/2021 story on Biden immigration plans here.]

Following introduction of the new bill, Biden said it represented an opportunity for critical reform following “four years of misguided policies” under the Trump administration that “exacerbated the already broken immigration system.”

“The legislation I sent to Congress will bring about much needed change to an immigration system where reform is long overdue,” he said in a statement. “It will modernize our legal immigration pathways and create an earned path to citizenship for so many – including Dreamers, farmworkers and TPS holders.”

The bill also calls for deploying additional technology for security on the southern U.S. border. Last month, the Biden administration halted border wall construction there.