July 14, 2024
Learn how the program will work, how many people could be protected, and more.

Andrea Castillo | Los Angeles Times (TNS)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden announced executive actions Tuesday aimed at shielding from deportation hundreds of thousands of immigrants who lack lawful status.

One of Biden’s actions will protect immigrant spouses of U.S. citizens who have lived consecutively in the country for at least a decade. The move allows those immigrants to quickly access a pathway to U.S. citizenship to which they are entitled through marriage.

Biden made the announcement at a White House event Tuesday afternoon marking the 12th anniversary of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama-era program that protected more than 800,000 immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. He called it a “common sense fix” and “the right thing to do.”

The protections for spouses of citizens come two weeks after Biden announced a separate executive action narrowing access to asylum at the southern border.

“We can both secure the border and provide legal pathways to citizenship,” Biden said. “I’m not interested in playing politics with the border and immigration — I’m interested in fixing it.”

With the election five months away, the president is attempting to appeal to a wide range of voters. The asylum rule was a move to the right that could help him win support from moderates, while the latest announcement appeals to the left, which was angered by the asylum restriction. Polls have shown many voters are concerned about immigration as the number of people crossing the Mexico border has swelled. Former President Donald Trump has made criticism of Biden’s immigration policy a cornerstone of his campaign to win back the White House.

Map of U.S. unauthorized immigrants by state. 

How will the program for immigrant spouses work?

The administration will use a program known as “parole in place,” which allows people to work legally and adjust their immigration status without having to leave the country.

Currently, immigrants who enter the country lawfully and marry U.S. citizens can obtain green cards that make them legal residents. But the vast majority those who enter illegally and marry must, as a penalty for skirting immigration law, return to their home countries and cannot come back for years, often at least a decade.

Many such immigrants have instead opted to stay in the U.S. without lawful status and continue to risk deportation.

Parole in place allows the government to disregard the illegal entry, allowing people to more seamlessly continue the process to become legal residents.

How many people could be protected?

Administration officials said the action will protect about 500,000 immigrant spouses of U.S. citizens, and about 50,000 immigrant youth with a U.S. citizen stepparent.

To qualify, immigrants must have resided in the U.S. for 10 or more years as of June 17 and be legally married to a citizen. On average, those eligible for the process have lived in the U.S. for 23 years.

Eligible immigrant children must be younger than 21, unmarried and their parents must have been married before the child turned 18.

At the White House on Tuesday, first lady Jill Biden described a common scenario, of an immigrant who came to the U.S. to work, fell in love and built a life here.

“But hanging over you is a shadow: a missing piece of paper, the possibility that your family may not be able to stay together,” she said. “It’s a story that too many families all across the country live every day.”

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Officials said that they expect to begin accepting applications by the end of summer and that they will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Those approved will become eligible for work authorization for up to three years. They will also have three years to apply for permanent residency.

Anyone who poses a threat to national security or public safety will be detained and expelled by the Department of Homeland Security or referred to other federal agencies for further investigation, the officials said.

Officials said they expect most applications to come from immigrants from Mexico, as well as many from Central America.

Those who lack legal status and are married to U.S. military members have qualified for a similar benefit since 2010.

What else is the White House planning?

In a separate move, the Biden administration is also making it easier for immigrants without legal status, including those with DACA and other so-called Dreamers, to more quickly receive work visas.

The change applies to those who graduated from a U.S. college and have received a job offer in a field related to their degree. Some work visas, such as the H-1B for workers in specialty occupations, offer a pathway to citizenship, though severe backlogs mean the process can take decades for people from certain countries.

Under U.S. law, anyone without legal status must leave the U.S. before applying for a visa and being permitted to return. Officials said the guidance will provide more certainty and speed around that process for workers who lack such status.

What are supporters saying?

Business groups and other advocates have urged Biden for months to extend protections and work authorization to certain longtime immigrants without legal status.

“This is a tremendous step forward from President Biden, and a much-needed fulfillment of the promise to keep families together,” said Todd Schulte, president of the advocacy organization FWD.us. “We celebrate alongside millions whose futures are brighter today, stand with those still awaiting similar protections, and renew our commitment to protecting this progress and fixing every aspect of our failed immigration system — including giving a pathway to citizenship to those who have waited too long.”

California Sen. Alex Padilla, a Democrat, commended Biden for “taking bold action” to give immigrants hope.

“The individuals and families who will benefit from these protections contribute immensely to our economy and our country,” Padilla said. “They are living proof that the American dream still exists — and today that American dream moves forward.”

Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán, a California Democrat and chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said caucus leaders met with Biden in May to request that he utilize the parole in place authority to protect more immigrants.

“Today is a happy day for many immigrant families across America,” she said. “There will be tears of joy paired with sighs of relief as the significance of these executive actions by President Biden sets in for these families.”

What are critics saying?

Critics said the move amounts to another example of Biden skirting Congress and abusing parole authority. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, called it an election-year stunt.

“This is what the Border Patrol calls a pull factor,” Cornyn said in a Senate floor speech Monday. “It’s like a magnet, attracting people into the United States who know that if they wait long enough, President Biden will find some way to allow them to stay in the United States, even though they circumvent legal means of coming into the country.”

Others said the visa change will bog down the backlog of immigrants waiting for green cards and were skeptical that the federal government could get through hundreds of thousands of applications before the election and possible administration change.

In a statement, the immigrant rights organization DREAM Team LA called for immigration reform instead of “more Band-Aids.”

“We have tears: tears of children translating English documents for their parents that their status of adjustments were denied; tears when families take their mother to the airport for her deportation; tears when children return to an empty home because both parents were taken away by CBP with no explanation, no authority to look after them,” DREAM Team LA wrote. “No, the Democratic Party gets no credit for wiping away the tears they themselves cause.”

The new rule is anticipated to face legal challenges, but Biden administration officials said Monday that they feel they are on strong legal footing.

©2024 Los Angeles Times. Visit at latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.