‘We can breathe:’ Biden immigration plans could affect SC immigrants

‘We can breathe:’ Biden immigration plans could affect SC immigrants
President Joe Biden has already signed dozens of executive orders including some that could impact immigrants all around the country. (Source: Live 5 News)

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - President Joe Biden has already signed dozens of executive orders including some that could impact immigrants all around the country.

Some of his calls to Congress, including an immigration reform bill, could provide a path to citizenship to thousands of people living in South Carolina.

Deferred action for childhood arrivals program

In an executive order, Biden has called on Congress to extend protections and give a path to citizenship for Dreamers who came to the United States as children.

The DACA program was created in 2012 under the Obama administration which Biden served as vice president. It allows children who arrive in the U.S. before the age of 16 to get temporary status and work authorization.

It also prevents them from deportation.

“The Trump administration tried to cancel these protections and the program was re-instated recently. We’ve had a lot of DACA recipients who didn’t know if their status was going to go away,” Charleston Immigration Attorney Marco Torres said. “One of the things we’re hoping for is to make it not a temporary benefit but a more long-term lasting path to permanent residency.”

Jessika Motta has been under the DACA program since it began. She is one of roughly 5,000 dreamers in South Carolina as of March 2020, according to the American Immigration Council.

She says the executive order is a great sign for the immigrant community.

“The last four years have just been a weight on our shoulders, not knowing the next thing that’s going to happen. I feel like we can breathe for the first time,” she said.

U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021

Biden is also proposing an immigration reform bill that could provide 10.5 million undocumented immigrants with an 8-year path to citizenship.

There are qualifications and requirements for people involved, and it would only apply to those who have been physically in the United States before January 1,2021.

“This would bring people who are living here out of the shadows and allow these people to apply for a temporary status in this country,” Torres said. " After a 5-year period, if you pass background check, you don’t have a criminal history, and you’ve been paying taxes, it will allow you to apply for legal permanent residency, what we know as green card holders.”

Torres says under this proposal after three years as a green card holder, the process will allow people to apply for citizenship.

“Right now, we have a lot of undocumented workers working in important sectors in South Carolina, for example our construction industry, hospitality industry, and the agriculture business,” he said. “I think this would be a benefit to give stability in these sectors for both the employers and for the workers.”

Arrest priorities for immigration and customs enforcement

The Department of Homeland Security announced a 100-day moratorium on deportations for “certain noncitizens” that starts Friday.

In a statement released Wednesday night, officials said they would pause removals to ensure they have “a fair and effective immigration enforcement system focused on protecting national security, border security, and public safety.”

That decision came after another executive order that changes arrest priorities for ICE.

“Under the Trump administration there was an enforcement plan that said everyone was under an enforcement priority. [That could apply] to anyone who immigration came across; it could be because you got a speeding ticket,” Torres said. “This new Biden proposal is going to scale that back and say look if you don’t have a criminal history, if you have children who live in this country, if you meet all of the requirements, we’re not going to make it a priority to remove you.”

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