It didn’t get much press–and that’s a thing we need to talk about–but last week, Colorado’s Democratic U.S. Senators John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet announced they are signing on as sponsors of the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021: the first legitimate attempt at a comprehensive immigration reform package since 2013’s Gang of Eight negotiations (which also included Sen. Bennet) led to the passage out of the Senate before dying in the GOP-controlled House:
U.S. Senators John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet today joined over twenty of their Senate colleagues and dozens of members of the House of Representatives to introduce the bicameral U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021. The comprehensive immigration reform bill is modeled after President Biden’s bold, inclusive, and humane framework for the future of the United States immigration system.
The legislation would provide millions of hardworking, undocumented immigrants with a pathway to citizenship, including Dreamers, Temporary Protective Status (TPS) recipients, and essential workers who have made enormous sacrifices during the pandemic; prioritize family reunification and keeping families together; and bolster the country’s long-term economic growth. The bill would also equip the country to responsibly and effectively manage the border with smart and effective investments, address root causes of migration that force people to leave Central America, and restore the United States’ commitment to human rights.
“For decades our broken immigration system has stifled our economy, undermined our security, and violated our country’s proud heritage as a nation of immigrants. We’ve seen this failed system play out in particularly horrific fashion over the last four years as families were ripped apart and children were housed in cages,” said Hickenlooper. “Today’s bill represents a comprehensive approach to tackling this challenge once and for all, including a much-needed, fair path to citizenship along with smart investments to effectively and responsibly manage our borders. It signals a new day in aligning our national values with our immigration policy.”
If passed into law, the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 would go considerably beyond the failed 2013 immigration reform bill by providing a three-year path to citizenship for green card holders, immediate green cards for “DREAMers,” and temporary legal status for undocumented immigrants already in the country with good records. It keeps families together in the U.S. during immigration proceedings, and clears visa backlogs for students and needed workers. It funds citizenship and English language instruction. And yes, it has money for border security as well–the smart kind, not the dumb wall-based variety.
But as we said at the beginning, buzz about this new ambitious proposal has been surprisingly lacking here in Colorado despite the active participation of both of the state’s U.S. Senators. One reason for this may be that finding the Republican Senators necessary to go along with any comprehensive immigration reform package is going to be difficult–likely more so than in 2013. In 2013, 14 Republicans joined with unanimous Senate Democrats to pass the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act by a lopsided 68-32 margin. If the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 gets to President Joe Biden’s desk, it’s almost certain to do so with less Republican crossover support simply due to the rightward drift of that party in the meantime.
Another reason we unfortunately suspect Sens. Bennet and Hickenlooper are not getting the credit they deserve for being part of this campaign, however, is local intra-Democratic politics. After Hickenlooper’s easy primary victory in 2020 and perhaps in anticipation of an underdog primary challenge against Bennet in 2022, there seems to be some reluctance to acknowledge politically positive developments involving our two Senators when they occur–and a great deal of focus on miscues that, while deserving of criticism, are just not of the same magnitude as the good they’re trying to do.
That’s a mistake. And in the event Bennet and Hickenlooper do get comprehensive immigration reform passed after all these years of trying, they’ll have both thanks and a few apologies coming.