President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. will propose far-reaching legislation on Wednesday to give millions of undocumented immigrants living in the United States a chance to become citizens in as little as eight years, part of an ambitious and politically perilous overhaul intended to wipe away President Trump’s four-year assault on immigration.
Under the proposal that Mr. Biden will send to Congress on his first day in office, current recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as “Dreamers,” and others in temporary programs that were set up to shield some undocumented immigrants from deportation would be allowed to apply for permanent legal residency immediately, according to transition officials who were briefed on Mr. Biden’s plan.
The legislation would also restore and expand programs for refugees and asylum seekers following efforts by Mr. Trump and Stephen Miller, the architect of his immigration agenda, to deny entry to those seeking shelter from poverty, violence and war. Mr. Biden’s bill would inject new money into foreign aid for Central American countries and enhance security at the border with new technologies instead of construction of a border wall.
If passed by Congress, the legislation would profoundly reshape the American immigration system, making it more generous to people from other parts of the world while rejecting the fearful messaging about immigrants employed by Mr. Trump since he became a presidential candidate in 2015.
But Mr. Biden’s proposal will also kick off a contentious new era of debate in the country about how America should treat outsiders, an issue that has been at the center of the breach between the two parties for decades. By sending his immigration proposals to Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Mr. Biden is signaling his willingness to step into that political maelstrom during his first days as president.
The immigration bill faces an uncertain future. Democrats narrowly control both chambers of Congress, but Mr. Biden will need bipartisan cooperation, especially in the Senate, where legislation requires 60 votes. Because Democrats hold 50 seats in the chamber, the president-elect will need 10 Republicans to support his efforts in order to pass it into law.
Former President Barack Obama successfully persuaded 68 senators, including fourteen Republicans, to support a comprehensive immigration bill in 2013, only to have the effort die in the Republican-controlled House. Now, with Democrats in charge of the House, the challenge for Mr. Biden will be in the Senate, where almost all of the Republicans who backed Mr. Obama have left.
They include former Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker of Tennessee, Jeff Flake and John McCain of Arizona, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Jeffrey Chiesa of New Jersey, Orrin Hatch of Utah, Dean Heller of Nevada and Mark Kirk of Illinois. Some of them were replaced with more conservative senators who are unlikely to back Mr. Biden’s plan.
During his four years in office, Mr. Trump transformed much of the Republican Party in his image. His core voters — and those of many Republicans now in office — now put immigration at the top of their concerns, and many echo the president’s harsh and overstated messaging about the dangers from immigrants to their lives and livelihoods.
Mr. Biden is betting on his longstanding relationships in the Senate and a backlash to some of Mr. Trump’s more extreme immigration measures, including separating migrant families at the border and forcing asylum-seekers to wait in slumlike facilities in Mexico while their applications for entry are processed.
He is also counting on support from religious and business groups who have long backed a more robust system of immigration. Catholic organizations argue that the country is morally obliged to be more generous to those seeking refuge, while groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce say the country needs immigrants to remain competitive.
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