In late January, the new U.S. Administration signed a memorandum fortifying the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. The Administration also granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to more individuals: those from Venezuela and Burma. Building on this, broad legislative immigration reform has also been proposed, including a path to citizenship for DACA (or Dreamers) and TPS beneficiaries, as well as undocumented immigrants currently living and working in the United States.
On March 18, 2021, the House passed two such bills: The American Dream and Promise Act (“Dream Act”) and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act (“Farm Act”).
The Dream Act would provide a path to citizenship for Dreamers, certain TPS beneficiaries, and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) beneficiaries. The bill passed the House with a 228 to 197 bipartisan majority.
The Dream and Promise Act is a more expansive version of the mainstay Democratic immigration bill, the DREAM Act. While that bill covered mostly DREAMers, it did not address immigrants covered by Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) —humanitarian protections that allow citizens of countries suffering from natural disaster, armed conflict, or extraordinary circumstances to live and work in the US free of fear of deportation.
DREAMers would have to apply for “conditional permanent residency,” which would only be granted under certain conditions:
• They arrived in the US before turning 18 and been in the US for at least four years.
• They have relatively clean record — a felony conviction or three separate misdemeanors involving total jail time of 90 days would be disqualifying.
• They have earned a high school diploma or GED, or be enrolled in an applicable program to earn one.
• They have passed a background check and other various eligibility requirements.
If approved, this “conditional status” designation would last for 10 years before they could apply for citizenship, during which they can live and work in the U.S. There would be other ways for DREAMers to be able to apply for a green card at any time, including serving in the military for two years, working for three years, or getting a degree from a higher education institution.
This legislation is expected to bring relief to approximately 2.5 million undocumented immigrants.
The Farm Act passed with a larger 247 to 174 bipartisan majority. This status could be renewed indefinitely for as long as the individual maintains applicable employment. There would also be a path to permanent residency for longtime workers, streamlining of the H-2A visa process, new wage standards, and a mandate for E-Verify for agriculture.
The bill would give farmworkers who have worked in agriculture for at least 180 days over the past two years the ability to apply for “Certified Agricultural Worker” status, which can be renewed in six-month or five-year increments if they continue to work in agriculture for at least 100 days a year. It also offers long-term farmworkers a path to a green card, which requires at least four more years of experience in the industry and a $1,000 fee.
Additionally, the bill would create a new program capped at 20,000 visas for year-round agricultural industries, which were previously barred from participating in the H-2A program and faced labor shortages, including dairy farming and producers of other animal products.
The bill also tightens up enforcement, requiring farm employers to participate in the federal E-Verify program, with no exemptions for small farmers. It would freeze the minimum wage set by the government for one year and cap increases at 3.25 percent for the next nine years.
This bill could potentially legalize up to about 325,000 immigrants currently working in agriculture who do not have legal status, and grant protections for workers which have long faced problems with fair wages and appropriate working conditions.
Are you or a loved one affected by the new administration? In these ever-changing times, It is more important now than ever to have adequate representation. Call us today for a free consultation.