Biden Unveils Pathway to Citizenship for Undocumented Spouses of U.S. Citizens

On Tuesday June 18th, President Biden introduced a new plan aimed at providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented spouses of U.S. citizens, which he described as a practical solution for over half a million mixed-status families in the country. This announcement comes as Biden attempts to address the increasing public concern over high levels of migration at the southern border while also trying to satisfy progressive Democrats and Hispanic leaders who are unhappy with his stringent asylum policies.

The new plan also includes provisions for the children of undocumented immigrants married to U.S. citizens. Biden emphasized his dedication to family unity, contrasting his approach with former President Donald Trump’s strict border policies that separated many families.

Biden revealed these plans during a White House event commemorating the 12th anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protects nearly 530,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation. The Department of Homeland Security estimates that approximately 500,000 undocumented spouses and 50,000 children under 21 could benefit from this initiative, with eligible individuals having lived in the U.S. for an average of 23 years.

Under the new policy, undocumented immigrants who have been in the U.S. for at least 10 years as of June 17 and are legally married to a U.S. citizen can seek legal status without leaving the country. There is no requirement for the length of marriage, but eligibility is restricted to those meeting the criteria as of a specific date.

Traditionally, marrying a U.S. citizen offers a route to citizenship, but those who entered illegally must leave the U.S. to apply for permanent residency, a process that can take years. This policy change allows these individuals to adjust their status within the U.S., avoiding the risk of family separation.

Additionally, Biden announced measures to streamline the employment visa process for certain undocumented college graduates, including DACA recipients and other Dreamers. Eligible individuals must have graduated from a U.S. institution and received a high-skill job offer.

The White House emphasized that this action is being taken unilaterally due to the lack of progress in Congress on immigration reform. Republicans have consistently blocked efforts to update the immigration system and increase border security resources. Earlier this year, a bipartisan border deal was obstructed by Republicans, excluding provisions to expand citizenship pathways or work visas for undocumented individuals.

Politically, this plan may help Biden counter accusations of conceding to hard-right demands on immigration and strengthen support among progressives. However, Republicans have already criticized the plan, labeling it as amnesty and suggesting it is a political move to gain votes.

Trump has promised to restore order at the southern border through mass deportations, bolstered by public disapproval of Biden’s immigration handling. Despite his previous controversial policies, Trump is gaining support on immigration issues, including among Latino voters.

Biden criticized Trump for his anti-immigrant stance and plans for family separation policies, warning of the implications of Trump’s proposed measures.

The new policy is expected to face legal challenges, with Republican-led states likely to contest the administration’s actions. House Speaker Mike Johnson has accused Biden of staging an election-year tactic, predicting court interventions. The White House, however, maintains that the plan is within legal bounds.

Margaret W. Wong & Associates will post further updates as more announcements are made from USCIS or the White House on this executive order. 

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