Biden helps immigrant spouses of U.S. citizens: What to know

President Biden will announce executive actions Tuesday aimed at shielding from deportation hundreds of thousands of immigrants who lack lawful status, according to senior administration officials.

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

Biden is expected to make the announcement at a White House event Tuesday 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.

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

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 Trump has made criticism of Biden’s immigration policy a cornerstone of his campaign to win back the White House.

The administration officials said the actions, along with the previous announcement, demonstrate the president’s commitment to securing the border, keeping families together and ensuring the immigration system is fairer.

How will the program for migrant 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.

Immigrants who enter the country lawfully and marry U.S. citizens can obtain green cards that make them legal residents. But as a penalty for skirting immigration law, the vast majority of those who entered illegally must 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 under age 21, unmarried and their parents must have been married before the child turned 18.

Applications, which are expected to open by the end of summer, will be considered on a case-by-case basis, officials said. Those approved will become eligible for work authorization for up to three years. They’ll 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 who are in the country illegally, including those with DACA status and other 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 “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 called Biden’s action “justice” that “was long overdue for the people who have been waiting but are key to so many thriving families and communities,” the Associated Press reported.

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.”

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

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