Democrats consider piecemeal approach to immigration reform

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A Cuban migrant family is detained by National Guard soldiers along the Rio Grande in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. The number of people apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border has increased since January and January was above December. This week families have been seen crossing from Ciudad Juarez and turning themselves over to Border Patrol. (AP Photo/Christian Chavez)

WASHINGTON – After decades of failed attempts to pass comprehensive immigration legislation, congressional Democrats and President Joe Biden are signaling openness to a piece-by-piece approach.

They unveiled a broad bill Thursday that would provide an eight-year pathway to citizenship for 11 million people living in the country without legal status. There are other provisions, too, but the Democrats are not talking all-or-nothing.

“Even though I support full, comprehensive immigration reform, I’m ready to move on piecemeal, because I don’t want to end up with good intentions on my hands and not have anything,” said Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar. “I’d rather have progress.”

The pragmatic approach is a clear recognition of the past failures to deliver on a large-scale immigration overhaul — and how success could be even more difficult in a highly polarized, closely divided Congress.

The Democrats' legislation reflects the broad priorities for immigration changes that Biden laid out on his first day in office, including an increase in visas, more money to process asylum applications, new technology at the southern border and funding for economic development in Latin American countries.

But advocates for expansive immigration say they could pursue smaller bills focused on citizenship for groups such as young immigrants brought to the U.S. by their parents as children, for agricultural workers and other essential labor.

“I know what it’s like to lose on big bills and small bills. The fear that people have experienced in the last four years deserves every single opportunity, every single bill to remedy,” said Greisa Martinez Rosas, executive director for United We Dream, an immigration advocacy group.

“The biggest thing here is that we’re going to get something across the finish line, because not doing so is not an option.”