Biden open to piecemeal immigration bill to snap Congress logjam

The president's comments come amid a historic influx of migrants at the US southern border.
The president's comments come amid a historic influx of migrants at the US southern border.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - President Joe Biden signalled he is open to a piecemeal approach to immigration, calling on lawmakers to immediately pass measures where there's bipartisan support even as he urged them to adopt his sweeping overhaul.

The president called for an "end to our exhausting war on immigration," and said if Congress will not pass his comprehensive bill, it should at least approve pieces such as a citizenship path for immigrants brought illegally to the United States as children, farm workers and those with temporary protected status.

"If you actually want to solve the problem - I have sent you a bill, now pass it," Mr Biden said Wednesday (April 28) during his first address to a joint session of Congress, according to prepared remarks.

"Now, if Congress won't pass my plan, let's at least pass what we agree on."

The president's comments come amid a historic influx of migrants at the US southern border that has overwhelmed government facilities and shelters.

Mr Biden is pushing to undo former President Donald Trump's hard-line policies, but Republicans have blamed the surge of migrants on his more welcoming rhetoric, a claim the president rejects.

At the same time, Mr Biden has come under fire from Democrats over his reversals on whether to lift the cap on the number of refugees allowed into the country this year.

Mr Biden fulfilled his campaign promise to send an immigration proposal to Congress on his first day in office, but Covid-19 relief and an infrastructure plan have taken priority. Immigrant-rights activists have pushed the president to take action.

Mr Biden's legislation would allow the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US to eventually apply for citizenship, while funding border-security technology and expanding legal immigration.

The proposal, which would require 60 votes to pass the Senate, faced long odds in the closely divided Congress even before the political and humanitarian crisis at the border.

Some Democratic lawmakers have pinned their hopes on slimmed-down legislation that would offer a citizenship path to the immigrants, known as Dreamers, who arrived illegally in the country as children as well as farm workers. The House passed a pair of bills for Dreamers and farm workers last month that both garnered Republican votes.

"Immigrants have done so much for America during the pandemic - as they have throughout our history," Mr Biden said, citing agricultural workers "who put food on our table" even at risk of their personal health.

A coalition of immigrant-rights groups announced earlier Wednesday the start of a US$50 million (S$66 million) campaign intended to pressure Congress to pass legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants to apply for citizenship.