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American Families United Act Priority Bill Spotlight,

American Families United | March 30, 2023

Although U.S. citizens are generally allowed to sponsor their spouses and children for lawful permanent residence (a green card), millions of mixed-status families are unable to complete the process because of some eligibility bars in the immigration laws that are difficult to overcome, and often impossible.

Jason Rochester, a U.S. citizen, and his wife Cecilia faced this heartbreaking challenge. After their son Ashton was diagnosed with cancer, Cecilia, who was undocumented, followed inaccurate advice from a lawyer and left the U.S. to return to Mexico. She hoped to return quickly with a green card, sponsored by her husband. But because she had re-entered the U.S. without authorization multiple times, even though it was many years earlier, she was subject to a permanent re-entry bar, which she can overcome only after 10 years outside the U.S. It is possible she may never be allowed to return to her family.

The American Families United Act (H.R. 1698) would help families like Jason and Cecilia’s by granting immigration judges and officials authority to weigh the impact that family separation would have on a U.S. citizen if their undocumented spouse or child were denied a visa or received a deportation order, and to grant these families relief, case by case.

Many U.S. citizens are unable to sponsor their spouses and children for green cards

An estimated 700,000 U.S. citizens have experienced family separation as their spouse was refused a visa or was removed from the U.S., according to American Families United, a volunteer-led organization of U.S. citizens with family members who cannot secure lawful status because of eligibility bars.

After being undocumented in the U.S. for some time, many immigrants face significant challenges adjusting their status, even if they are married to a U.S. citizen. For example, they may be subject to bars on re-entry that would prevent them from receiving a visa if they leave the U.S. and try to return through a legal channel. If they entered without authorization multiple times, even when they were very young, and even if they have current immigration protections like DACA1, they could be permanently barred. And all individuals living undocumented in the U.S. are generally at risk of deportation.

Immigration judges and officers are bound by law in what considerations they can make when reviewing cases, so these older and relatively minor infractions end up imposing huge, long-lasting, devastating consequences—even if the penalties would cause serious harm to the families.

The lack of options forces families to make impossible choices about the country they call home and the people they love. Unable to access lawful status, undocumented spouses and children of U.S. citizens live every day at risk of deportation. If they leave, their whole family must leave, or they’ll be separated for a decade or more. This uncertainty puts incredible strain on millions of American families and the communities who value and rely on them.

The American Families United Act would prioritize keeping families together

The American Families United Act would authorize immigration judges and officers to exercise discretion when handling cases involving spouses and children of U.S. citizens, including allowing them to remain in the U.S. with their families and to receive their green cards.

The bipartisan legislation was reintroduced by Representatives Veronica Escobar (D-TX) and María Salazar (R-FL). The legislation has been reintroduced in every session of Congress since 2013, and was passed by the House Judiciary committee during the previous session of Congress, though it never received a full House vote.

Specifically, the American Families United Act would give discretionary authority for immigration judges or officers adjudicating applications to waive, on a case-by-case basis, certain immigration penalties or eligibility requirements2 that might expose the spouse or child of a U.S. citizen to removal or cause their green card application to be denied, if their removal or denial would cause hardship to their American spouse, child, or parent. It would also affirm the principle of family unity by establishing a presumption that family separation constitutes a hardship.

1 in 20 people in the U.S. live in mixed-status households

Millions of mixed-status families live in the U.S. today. According to, more than 22 million people—1 in 20 people in the U.S.—live in mixed-status households. Some 10.6 million U.S. citizens, including 5.8 million U.S. citizen children, live in households with someone who is undocumented. And nearly 1.7 million U.S. citizens have a spouse who is undocumented.

Legislation like the American Families United Act would provide some relief and certainty to families living every day with the threat of being separated from one another, the way the Rochesters have been, with no options to make things right. Family unity has long been a foundational principle in our immigration system, and this change would give immigration authorities the power to protect it.

Providing a pathway to citizenship for family members, particularly undocumented spouses and children, would bring important economic benefits for their families and for the broader economy, as well. analysis shows that undocumented spouses of U.S. citizens would contribute an additional $16 billion annually to the U.S. economy, along with an additional $5 billion in federal, payroll, state, and local taxes, if they were able to access citizenship. With lawful work authorization, they could help fill critical job openings, easing inflationary pressures caused by labor shortages.

U.S. citizens should not have to choose between their country and their families. supports the American Families United Act, and urges Members in both parties to co-sponsor this common sense legislation.

American Families United


American Families United proposes solutions to Congress and supports efforts to advance legislation that affects U.S. citizens married to foreign nationals.

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American Families United Act Priority Bill Spotlight,
American Families United Act Priority Bill Spotlight,