Biden might succeed in legalizing millions of undocumented immigrants. Here’s why | Opinion

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Andres Oppenheimer
·3 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Under the immigration bill that President Joe Biden is expected to send to Congress, known as the U.S. Citizenship Act, undocumented immigrants would be given an eight-year path to citizenship if they pass background checks and prove they have paid taxes.

That would be anathema for Republican anti-immigration zealots. But here are the reasons why Biden may succeed:

First, Biden will enjoy a big advantage over former President Obama on immigration issues, because public opinion has changed in recent years. Polls show that most Americans may be ready for more pro-immigrant policies.

Perhaps it’s because Americans have grown tired of former President Trump’s and Fox News’ constant demonization of undocumented immigrants. Or maybe enough Americans have been shocked by the Trump administration’s cruelty when they saw pictures of immigrant children kept in cages or learned about the separation of babies from their migrant parents.

A Gallup Poll shows that Americans’ support for pro-immigration policies is at its highest level in half a century.

At least 34 percent of Americans believe immigration should be increased, and another 36 percent think it should be kept at current levels. That combined pro-immigration stand of 70 percent is larger than at any time since Gallup began asking this question in 1966, the poll shows.

Likewise, a Pew Research Center study shows that 60 percent of Americans believe that the growing number of newcomers is good for the country, while only 37 percent believe it’s a threat to U.S. customs and values.

Just in the past four years — during Trump’s term — pro-immigration sentiment in the country rose by 14 percentage points, the Pew study says.

“Trump’s nativism backfired with the majority of the public,” Frank Sharry, head of the America’s Voice pro-immigration advocacy group, told me. “There’s more political space and more political will to legislate and reform immigration policy now.”

Second, the Biden administration plans to use a new strategy to legalize undocumented residents, people familiar with the president’s plan tell me.

Instead of asking Congress to approve Biden’s immigration package as a stand-alone bill, the administration is likely to attach it to a larger COVID-19 or economic-stimulus legislative package.

The administration will argue that millions of undocumented workers — including first responders, hospital workers and waiters — are essential workers who are needed to fight the pandemic and to help revamp the economy.

An estimated 7 million of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country qualify as essential workers or are “DREAMers” — people who were brought to the country as infants by their undocumented parents — or have temporary protected status. Those 7 million would be the first group to be legalized.

Third, Biden will have a greater urgency to pass an immigration bill than Obama did, because he wants to mark a sharp contrast with the Trump administration’s brutality against immigrants.

Biden knows that immigration reform is a pending assignment for the Democrats, and that he may only have two years to get his plan passed by Congress.

Historically, the party that is in the White House tends to lose the midterm elections, so Biden could lose his congressional majority in 2022. For Biden, it will be now or, possibly, never.

It won’t be easy, but Biden may succeed in his plan to legalize many of the estimated 11 million undocumented residents. I’ll be rooting for it.

Don’t miss the “Oppenheimer Presenta” TV show at 8 p.m. E.T. Sunday on CNN en Español. Twitter: @oppenheimera