Biden announces policy shielding undocumented spouses of U.S. citizens from deportation

June 20, 2024

President Joe Biden is taking executive action to protect undocumented spouses of American citizens—a move that would shield about 500,000 immigrants from deportation, reports NBC News.

The White House announced the election-year policy on Tuesday, June 19—framing it as “new action to keep families together.”

NBC News reported last week that action protecting the spouses was likely to be announced soon; after urging action from immigration advocates and Democratic lawmakers, and as the president courts Latino voters in crucial battleground states.

The new policy would allow noncitizens who have been in the country for at least ten years and are married to a U.S. citizen, and their children, to apply for permanent residence without leaving the country.

During a ceremony at the White House, Biden called the steps a “commonsense fix” to a system that is “cumbersome, risky and separates families.”

He said the order would go into effect this summer and stressed that it would not benefit people who recently came into the country. Instead, it would help people who are “paying taxes and contributing to our country” and their family members.

“This is the biggest thing since DACA,” said a source familiar with the matter, an immigration advocate.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program—announced by then-President Barack Obama in 2012—allowed immigrants who illegally came to the United States as children to stay in the country.

Foreshadowing the likely battles to come over the policy, the White House was keen to stress that it has been tough on unlawful border crossings and has worked to dismantle people-smuggling networks.

The president “believes that securing the border is essential,” it said in a news release Tuesday outlining the new action.

“He also believes in expanding lawful pathways and keeping families together, and that immigrants who have been in the United States for decades, paying taxes and contributing to their communities, are part of the social fabric of our country,” the statement said.

The statement added that the spouses eligible to apply for this have been in the United States for 23 years on average. The program would also make it easier for some undocumented immigrants to get a green card and a path to U.S. citizenship.

Sources also say that the undocumented spouses would be allowed to obtain work permits on a case-by-case basis.

The action includes plans to allow DACA recipients who earned degrees in higher education and are seeking a job in that same field to more quickly receive work visas.

Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, blasted the executive action.

Speaking at a campaign rally in Wisconsin, Trump said that if he’s elected in November, Biden’s new immigration policy would be immediately “ripped up and thrown out.”

“It’s been a nonstop catastrophe, but one of crooked Joe’s most destructive moves yet is the lawless executive action he’s taken today,” Trump said. “Under this program, a deluge of illegals will be given immediate green cards and put on the fast track to rapid citizenship so they can vote.”

The presumptive Republican nominee for president, who has made immigration and border issues a cornerstone of his campaign, said “millions” of immigrants would benefit from the program—a figure that contrasts with a White House estimate that it would impact roughly 500,000 people who are spouses and 50,000 non-citizen children who are under 21 with a non-citizen parent who married an American before they were 18 who may also qualify.

The new program is expected to be challenged in court.

Noting the likelihood of lawsuits, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement that passing legislation would be “the only action that will fully allow these deserving individuals to put down roots, start families, further their education, and continue contributing to our society without fear of deportation.”

But Durbin also acknowledged that getting a bill through Congress would be unlikely given Republican opposition to previous immigration overhauls.

Research contact: @NBCNews