The NCSL Blog


By Christian Burks

The U.S. House passed two immigration reform bills on March 18: The American Dream and Promise Act of 2021 and The Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2021.

Immigrants taking citizenship oathThe House has prioritized these bills over the comprehensive U.S. Citizenship Act because the chamber previously passed them in 2019. Under House rules, bills that passed the previous Congress may be fast-tracked for a vote on the House floor without committee markup or passage.

The American Dream and Promise Act passed 228-197, with nine Republicans joining Democrats in supporting the bill. The legislation would create a path to citizenship for “Dreamers” as well as Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders, affecting about 2.5 million immigrants in total.

TPS and DED holders would be converted to lawful permanent resident (LPR) status if they:

  • Have lived in the U.S. continuously for at least three years.
  • Were either eligible for TPS on Sept. 17, 2017, or had DED as of Jan. 20, 2021.
  • Complete the LPR application within three years of the bill’s enactment.

After five years under LPR, they would be able to apply for citizenship.

"Dreamers" would not follow the same pathway to LPR status but would instead be able to apply for a 10-year conditional permanent resident status so long as the individual demonstrates they:

  • Have been continuously present in the United States since Jan. 1, 2021, and entered at or below the age of 18.
  • Are not national security threats, have not engaged in any forms of persecution, and do not have any criminal convictions or separate immigration violations that would make them inadmissible.
  • Have not been convicted of an offense punishable with a sentence of a year or more, three or more separate misdemeanor offenses, or any crime of domestic violence.
  • Have either received a high school diploma or equivalent degree or are currently in the process of doing so.
  • Are able to pass a background check.

The conditional status can be converted to full legal permanent residency if the individual either graduates or completes two years of a higher degree program in the U.S., serves in the military for two years or works for three years. Additional provisions in the legislation include permitting "Dreamers" to access federal financial aid and allowing states to grant in-state tuition to unauthorized students

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act passed 247-174, with 30 Republicans voting in favor of the bill.

The legislation would provide a path to legal immigration status for unauthorized farmworkers who have worked in agriculture for at least 180 days over the past two years in the U.S. by giving them the ability to become “Certified Agricultural Workers.” This protects their legal status with five-year renewable agriculture visas. Depending on how long the individual has been working in the U.S. they will then be able to apply for LPR status in either four or eight years.

The bill additionally streamlines the H-2A Visa Program by allocating an additional 40,000 green cards per year for agricultural workers and instituting mandatory E-verify for agricultural employers after the legalization program for unauthorized farmworkers has been implemented.

President Joe Biden has stated his support for both bills and they are expected to move forward to the Senate, where they will likely need the support of 10 Republicans to ensure passage.

Both bills currently face an uphill battle in the Senate, as Republicans have expressed hesitancy at taking on immigration reform until the administration addresses the growing number of arrivals at the southern border. The Farm Workforce Act may ultimately have a more favorable prognosis, given that several Senate Republicans have shown modest support for the bill and Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) have committed to introducing a companion bill in the Senate.

Christian Burks is an intern with NCSL's Immigration Program.

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This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.