Immigration Policy

Immigration Policy

The US Citizenship Act of 2021: What’s Inside and Who Could be Eligible for Immigration Relief

On January 20, 2021, President Biden announced the US Citizenship Act of 2021 memorializing his commitment to modernize the US immigration system. On February 18, 2021, Senator Bob Mendez and Congresswoman Linda Sanchez introduced the bill to the Senate and House (respectively). If passed, it would create the largest legalization program in US history. This page provides an overview of the act’s provisions.

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President Biden’s Executive Actions on Immigration

President Joseph R. Biden Jr. set forth an ambitious immigration agenda in the early days of the Biden-Harris administration, committing both to reverse harmful policies implemented by the Trump administration and to revitalize the US immigration system more broadly. In his first 100 days in office, President Biden articulated his immigration and refugee protection goals and reversed many of his predecessor’s policies in a series of executive actions. He also raised the refugee admissions cap for FY 2021 and endorsed the US Citizenship Act of 2021, which would represent the most sweeping immigration reform legislation in decades and create the largest legalization program in US history.  President Biden’s executive actions address the situation at the southern border, root causes of irregular migration from Central America, impacts of climate change on migration, COVID-19 travel restrictions, and fortification of existing legal immigration pathways, as well as commitments to create new ones.

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New from IMR: Migration Infrastructure, Policy, and Public Attitudes

The Fall 2020 edition of the International Migration Review (IMR) is now available online and in print through paid or institutional subscription. This edition is thematically sorted into four sections. The first section has articles about different aspects of migration infrastructure. The second section discusses migrant labor market outcomes, with a focus on education, employment, and selection. The third section examines migration policies across scales, such as local voting, geopolitical influences, and enforcement questions. The fourth section examines immigration and public attitudes focusing on political elites and media use. Lastly, this edition includes 11 book reviews which are free to access.

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Panel III • The 2020 Election: An Administrative Agenda for Immigration and Refugee Reform

The US Presidential and Congressional election could have as profound an effect on the course of US immigration and refugee policy as any election in memory. This panel examined the potential immigration and refugee agenda of the Biden administration, with a particular focus on what the new administration should seek to achieve through administrative action in its first year. It also explored the challenges the new administration will face in enacting its agenda, and whether multiple national crises – public health, racial, economic, and immigration – will provide an opening and momentum for more generous and inclusive policies.

Daniela Alulema

Director of Programs
Center for Migration Studies

T. Alexander Aleinikoff

University Professor
Director of the Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility
The New School

Donald Kerwin
Executive Director
Center for Migration Studies

Charles Wheeler
Director of Training and Legal Support
Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.

Wendy Young
Kids in Need of Defense

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Improving the U.S. Immigration System in the First Year of the Biden Administration

The Biden administration will face substantial challenges in putting immigration and refugee policy back on track—not just reversing ill-advised policies of the past four years but also improving a system that was in need of reform well before the current administration took office. In this paper, T. Alexander Aleinikoff and Donald Kerwin highlight a number of reforms that should be prioritized by the Biden administration in its first year.

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2020 Fr. Lydio F. Tomasi, C.S. Annual Lecture on International Migration | Mobility and Lockdown: Challenges to the Human

Established in 2014, the Fr. Lydio F. Tomasi, C.S. Annual Lecture on International Migration addresses a migration-related topic of pressing concern to faith communities. Fr. Tomasi, a founding member of the Center for Migration Studies of New York (CMS), directed the institute from 1968 to 2001. Co-sponsored with the University of Notre Dame, the 2020 Fr. Lydio F. Tomasi, C.S. Annual Lecture on International Migration was delivered by His Eminence Cardinal Michael F. Czerny, SJ, Under-Secretary for the Migrants & Refugees Section of the Vatican Dicastery for Human Development.

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Mobility and Lockdown: Challenges to the Human

The 2020 Father Lydio F. Tomasi, C.S. Annual Lecture on International Migration was delivered by His Eminence Cardinal Michael F. Czerny, SJ, Under-Secretary for the Migrants & Refugees Section of the Vatican Dicastery for Human Development.

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More than a Wall: The Rise and Fall of US Asylum and Refugee Policy

This article uses a multidisciplinary approach — analyzing historical sources, refugee and asylum admissions data, legislative provisions, and public opinion data — to track the rise and fall of the US asylum and refugee policy. It shows that there has always been a political struggle between people who advocate for a generous refugee and asylum system and those who oppose it. Today, the flexible system of protecting refugees and asylees, established in 1980, is giving way to policies that weaponize them.

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Strengthening the US Immigration System through Legal Orientation, Screening and Representation: Recommendations for a New Administration

This paper highlights the importance of legal orientation, screening, and representation to the US immigration system. It proposes that a new administration facilitate legal representation in order to establish a fairer and more efficient removal adjudication system and to place more immigrants on a path to permanent residence and citizenship. As is well-documented, legal assistance can:

  • Improve the ability of immigrants to identify and articulate their claims in removal proceedings and produce better-informed case outcomes.
  • Increase the efficiency and contribute to the integrity of the removal adjudication system.
  • Lead to better-prepared applications for immigration benefits, and thus a more just and efficient legal immigration system.
  • Place more non-citizens on a path to permanent residence and naturalization by identifying their potential eligibility for immigration benefits or relief, and, in some cases, their existing US citizenship.

Legal representation and expertise can also contribute to resolving some of the substantial problems that afflict the US immigration system, such as lengthy court and asylum backlogs. In addition, it can identify and help to correct legal and factual errors by immigration adjudicators, and abuses by enforcement officers and private contractors.

The paper’s first section describes federal legal orientation and assistance programs for non-citizens in removal proceedings. The second section discusses the need for large-scale legal screening and representation of US undocumented residents, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) beneficiaries. Its third section examines the proliferation of universal representation programs—supported by states, localities, and private funders—for non-citizens in removal proceedings before an immigration judge, and in summary removal processes administered by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The paper concludes with a series of administrative measures that a new administration could take in its first year to strengthen and expand legal representation. It also outlines longer-term policy recommendations that would require legislation.

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Rebuilding the US Refugee Resettlement Program

This paper offers an historic review of the US refugee resettlement program.  It spans the colonial era, to the establishment of the first distinct US admissions policies for persons fleeing persecution in 1917, to the creation of the formal US Refugee Admissions Program in 1980, and to the Trump administrations’ denigration of and attempts to eviscerate the program. It proposes ways that a new administration can rebuild this crucially important program and put it on more secure footing. In particular, it recommends that a new administration:

  • Reframe the discourse on refugee resettlement to emphasize its central importance to the nation’s identity and the way it serves the national interest.
  • Rebuild the capacity of the federal government to administer the program and the badly depleted community-based resettlement infrastructure that is central to the program’s success.
  • Hold emergency consultations with Congress to increase refugee admissions in Fiscal Year 2021, and consult soon after the inauguration with international, state and local, and non-governmental partners to plan FY 2022 resettlement goals, including a robust admissions ceiling and budget.
  • Reform and reinvigorate federal consultations with states and localities to ensure their receptivity, capacity and support for refugees, and eliminate the current veto power of states and municipalities over resettlement in their jurisdictions.
  • Explore legislative fixes to the refugee admissions process and attempt to depoliticize the process by setting a “normal flow level” that does not require an annual Presidential determination.
  • Join the Global Compact on Refugees, which seeks to expand the availability of durable solutions for refugees, and encourage other nations to follow the U.S. example of resettling larger numbers of refugees.


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