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President Biden took a major step last week to slow deportations, and his allies in Congress unveiled a bill that would represent the country’s most sweeping immigration overhaul in generations.

Immigration reform is of enormous importance to millions of Americans, particularly the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. But it’s also a quagmire of an issue that has led to legislative stalemates and disappointment numerous times in the past few decades. With so much on their priorities list, why are Democrats targeting this issue now?

For one, advocates say, the time has simply come. Polling data shows that the country largely objected to President Donald Trump’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants, and in fact grew considerably more favorable to immigration over the course of his administration.

And Democrats are eager to shore up support from Latino voters in particular, who did not back Biden as strongly in November as his campaign had hoped — particularly in parts of Florida, Texas and Arizona. His primary campaign focused significantly less on Hispanic outreach than did that of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Biden’s main rival, who handily won the Latino vote in Democratic nominating contests. Without meaningful action, advocates say, Biden risks causing further disillusionment among Latino voters.

“Latinos — and in our research, even swing Latinos who voted for Trump — want to see Democrats deliver something on immigration,” Carlos Odio, a co-founder of the Latino-focused data firm EquisLabs, said in an interview. “Part of what created an opening for Donald Trump was the idea that both parties were the same on this issue.”
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Biden’s administration on Thursday moved to significantly curtail deportations, ordering immigration agents to seek federal approval before moving to deport undocumented people who have been in the United States for a considerable amount of time without committing felonies or being classified as national security threats.

So-called amnesty for undocumented immigrants has long been a hot-button topic for the G.O.P. base, but allowing immigrants to stay in the country has the support of roughly three-quarters of Americans, and even a slim majority of Republicans, according to a Quinnipiac University poll published this month. Permitting these immigrants to apply for citizenship is nearly as popular: Sixty-five percent of Americans supported this, according to the poll.

This marks an increase in support for amnesty since the start of Trump’s term, but Quinnipiac polling as far back as 2012 found that upward of two-thirds of the country supported letting immigrants stay. Fifty-seven percent in 2012 endorsed a pathway to citizenship for those living here without papers.

As Democratic lawmakers unveiled their legislative proposal on Thursday, they framed it as a deliberate rejection of the Trump administration’s approach. Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, a chief sponsor of the bill, said that by sending Biden to the White House, Americans had effectively tasked Congress with “fixing our immigration system, which is a cornerstone of Trump’s hateful horror show.”
The New York Times