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Half a Million Immigrants Could Eventually Get US Citizenship Under a New Plan from Biden
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By Associated Press
Published 1 month ago on
June 18, 2024

President Biden's new plan could offer relief to hundreds of thousands of immigrants without legal status in the US. (AP/Mark Schiefelbein)

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is taking an expansive election year step to offer relief to potentially hundreds of thousands of immigrants without legal status in the U.S., aiming to balance his own aggressive crackdown on the southern border earlier this month that enraged advocates and many Democratic lawmakers.

The White House announced Tuesday that the Biden administration will, in the coming months, allow certain spouses of U.S. citizens without legal status to apply for permanent residency and eventually citizenship. The move could affect upwards of half a million immigrants, according to senior administration officials.

Qualifications and Process

To qualify, an immigrant must have lived in the United States for 10 years as of Monday and be married to a U.S. citizen. If a qualifying immigrant’s application is approved, he or she would have three years to apply for a green card and receive a temporary work permit, shielded from deportation in the meantime.

About 50,000 noncitizen children with parents who are married to U.S. citizen could also potentially qualify for the process, according to senior administration officials who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity. There is no requirement on how long the couple must have been married, but no one becomes eligible after Monday. That means immigrants who reach that 10-year mark after Monday will not qualify for the program, according to the officials.

Senior administration officials said they anticipate the process will be open for applications by the end of the summer. Fees to apply have yet to be determined.

Political Implications

Biden will speak about his plans at a Tuesday event at the White House, which will also mark the 12th anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, a popular Obama-era directive that offered deportation protections and temporary work permits for young immigrants who lack legal status.

Democrats, even after the president’s efforts to restrict asylum earlier this month, hope to sharply contrast Biden with presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump and his campaign pledge to deport millions if he is reelected. Trump has leaned into his hardline policies as Biden has faced disapproval of his handling of immigration throughout his presidency, and on Tuesday, Trump’s campaign accused the incumbent president of creating “another invitation for illegal immigration.”

“Biden only cares about one thing — power — and that’s why he is giving mass amnesty and citizenship to hundreds of thousands of illegals who he knows will ultimately vote for him and the Open Border Democrat Party,” Trump campaign spokeswoman Karoline Leavitt said.

Because the threat of a second Trump administration looms over Biden’s new policy, Tuesday’s actions will set off a months-long sprint by Latino organizations to get as many people to apply for the program as possible. Trump could dissolve the program if he is reelected, but immigrants who are granted the parole status would still be protected.

Among advocates, Gustavo Torres, the executive director of CASA, said Biden’s announcement would energize Latino communities to get out and support him.

“This is what our communities have needed to rally behind President Biden for reelection,” he said.

The Democratic president will also announce new regulations that will allow certain DACA beneficiaries and other young immigrants to more easily qualify for long-established work visas. That would allow qualifying immigrants to have protection that is sturdier than the work permits offered by DACA, which is currently facing legal challenges and is no longer taking new applications.

The power that Biden is invoking with his Tuesday announcement for spouses is not a novel one. The policy would expand on authority used by Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama to allow “parole in place” for family members of military members, said Andrea Flores, a former policy adviser in the Obama and Biden administrations who is now a vice president at FWD.us, an immigration advocacy organization.

The parole-in-place process allows qualifying immigrants to get on the path to U.S. permanent residency without leaving the country, removing a common barrier for those without legal status but married to Americans. Flores called it “the biggest win for the immigrant rights movement since the announcement of DACA 12 years ago.”

Tuesday’s announcement came two weeks after Biden unveiled a sweeping crackdown at the U.S.-Mexico border that effectively halted asylum claims for those arriving between officially designated ports of entry. Immigrant-rights groups have sued the Biden administration over that directive, which a senior administration official said Monday had led to fewer border encounters between ports.

The same progressives who were infuriated with Biden’s asylum order praised the president on Tuesday. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., who leads the Congressional Progressive Caucus, commended Biden and said the actions would help keep American families together.

“Many Americans would be shocked to hear that when a U.S. citizen marries an undocumented person, their spouse is not automatically eligible for citizenship,” she said. ““Imagine loving someone, marrying them, and then still continuing to fear you would be separated from them.

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