Biden Demands Citizenship for All Undocumented Immigrants, but He Signals Flexibility

“We must not start with concessions out of the gate. We are not going to start with two million undocumented people instead of 11 million,” he said. “We will never win an argument that we don’t have the courage to make. We must make our case for bold, inclusive and lasting immigration reform.”

How to successfully revamp the nation’s immigration system has for decades eluded policymakers in Washington. The last time a major immigration bill was signed into law was in 1990, when President George Bush expanded legal immigration into the United States, ahead of an explosion of illegal crossings at the southwestern border in the following 20 years.

The surge in illegal border crossings prompted demands for increased enforcement from conservatives even as backlogs in legal immigration created a growing crisis for businesses looking for workers and for families seeking refuge in the United States from violence and disasters at home.

For nearly three decades, those in favor of immigration have argued for a single, comprehensive bill with elements that could unite Democrats and Republicans, labor unions and big businesses, security-minded conservatives and liberal immigration supporters.

Such bills — which were introduced in 2001, 2006, 2007 and 2013 — centered around a trade-off: amped up border security and immigration law enforcement in exchange for a path to citizenship for undocumented people. They also included increases in the number of temporary workers allowed into the United States; more resources for processing asylum applications; new opportunities for high-skilled workers from other countries; some limits on immigration based on family ties; and protections for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.

But none of those efforts succeeded. Despite support from President George W. Bush, the Senate and House failed to reach a compromise in 2006, and legislation in 2007 was defeated in the Senate. In 2013, Mr. Obama secured bipartisan Senate passage of an immigration overhaul, 68 to 32, only to see it ignored by the Republican-controlled House. Over the past four years, some of the conservative side of the equation — border security — was secured by Donald J. Trump in the form of tough restrictions on asylum seekers and partial construction of Mr. Trump’s “big, beautiful” border wall.

Mr. Biden won the presidency in part by pledging that he would bring back bipartisanship and saying that his longstanding relationships in the Senate would help him bridge the partisan divides that have grown deeper in recent years. Ms. Psaki said the president has outlined “the tenets of what we think the proposal should look like” in the hopes of addressing the root causes of immigration problems.

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