Biden Gives Legal Protections to Undocumented Spouses of U.S. Citizens

Biden Gives Legal Protections to Undocumented Spouses of U.S. Citizens

The new policy is one of the most significant actions to protect immigrants in years. It affects about 500,000 people who have been living in the United States for more than a decade.


President Biden on Tuesday granted far-reaching new protections for hundreds of thousands of immigrants who have been living in the United States illegally for years but are married to American citizens.

Under the new policy, some 500,000 undocumented spouses will be shielded from deportation and given a pathway to citizenship and the ability to work legally in the United States. It is one of the most expansive actions to protect immigrants since Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, was enacted 12 years ago to protect those who came to the United States as children.

“These couples have been raising families, sending their kids to church and school, paying taxes, contributing to our country,” Mr. Biden said at the White House, where he was joined by members of Congress and DACA recipients, known as Dreamers. “They’re living in the United States all this time with fear and uncertainty. We can fix that.”

Mr. Biden also said he would make it easier for Dreamers to gain access to work visas. “We’re a much better and stronger nation because of Dreamers,” Mr. Biden said, as he marked the anniversary of the Obama-era DACA program.


The new policy allows Mr. Biden to balance his recent crackdown on asylum with a sweeping pro-immigrant measure at a moment of political peril. With five months to go before the presidential election, Mr. Biden has been trying to curtail record numbers of illegal border crossings without alienating longtime supporters who have called for a more humane immigration system after the Trump years.

The policy aims to help people who have been living in the United States for more than a decade, building lives and families here. Even though marrying an American citizen generally provides a pathway to U.S. citizenship, people who crossed the southern border illegally — rather than arriving in the country with a visa — are required to return to their home countries to complete the process for a green card.

The new program allows them to remain in the country while they pursue legal status.

There are roughly 1.1 million undocumented immigrants married to American citizens in the United States, according to, an immigration advocacy group, but not all of them are eligible for the program.

To be eligible, the spouses must have lived in the United States for 10 years and been married to an American citizen as of June 17. They cannot have a criminal record. The benefits would also extend to the roughly 50,000 children of undocumented spouses who became stepchildren to American citizens.


The new benefits for undocumented spouses will not take effect right away; senior Biden administration officials said they expected the program to begin by the end of the summer. Those eligible will then be able to apply for the benefits.

“The president is sending a message that immigration is not just about the border,” said Marielena Hincapié, an immigration fellow at the Cornell Immigration Law and Policy Program. “He’s focusing on long-term immigrants, not recent arrivals.”

Immediately after the announcement, however, allies of former President Donald J. Trump accused Mr. Biden of being weak on the border. Speaker Mike Johnson said the president was “granting amnesty to hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens.”

America First Legal, a conservative organization run by Stephen Miller, the architect of Mr. Trump’s anti-immigration policies, indicated on social media that the group would challenge the program.


Mr. Biden has said he has had to use executive action to address immigration because Republicans in Congress refuse to act. Republicans blocked a bipartisan immigration bill in February, saying it was not strong enough even though it included some of the most significant restrictions Congress had contemplated in years.


Many of the Republicans, encouraged by Mr. Trump, were not inclined to give Mr. Biden a legislative victory in an election year.

“So much for Republicans caring about the border,” Mr. Biden said on Tuesday.

Two weeks ago, Mr. Biden bypassed Congress and issued an executive order that prevents migrants from seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border when crossings surge. It was the most restrictive border policy instituted by Mr. Biden, or any other modern Democrat.

Almost immediately after the president issued that order, White House officials began privately reassuring progressives that he would also help undocumented immigrants who had been in the nation for years, according to people familiar with the conversations. On Tuesday, Mr. Biden did just that.



The new policy could help Mr. Biden in battleground swing states like Nevada, Arizona and Georgia, which each have more than 100,000 voters who live in “mixed status” households, according to the American Business Immigration Coalition, which supports the proposed policy change.

“The road to the White House runs through Nevada, and people in my state are paying attention,” Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, Democrat of Nevada, wrote in an opinion essayfor Univision this week. She said protecting undocumented spouses would bolster the economy in her state.

Mr. Biden is relying on a program known as “parole in place,” which has been used for other populations like families of military members. The status gives noncitizens the ability to temporarily live and work in the United States without fear of deportation.

One of the people who could be directly affected by the change is Ashley DeAzevedo, the president of American Families United, whose husband is undocumented. Her group supports mixed-status families like hers. The couple has been married for more than a decade and has an 11-year-old child.

“It would be an absolute game changer to not have to worry about being separated, because right now he could technically be removed,” Ms. DeAzevedo said. “There’s always a concern if he gets pulled over or anything like that. It could be, you know, just catastrophic for our family.”

While some Democrats applauded Mr. Biden’s new policy for undocumented spouses, many immigration advocates remained concerned about the life span of the original program the White House celebrated on Tuesday.

In the years since President Barack Obama created DACA in 2012, it has allowed hundreds of thousands of young adults to get jobs and live without fear of deportation.

But DACA has been closed to new applicants since 2017, when Mr. Trump tried to end the program. It remains ensnared in litigation, and its long-term survival remains in question, even though it was revived for existing beneficiaries. Participants are now, on average, in their mid-30s.


Recipients who were once children fearful of having their parents deported “are now the parents afraid of getting deported,” said Bruna Bouhid-Sollod, a senior political director at United We Dream Action, an advocacy group for DACA recipients.

Mr. Biden appeared intent on addressing those fears with his announcement on Tuesday that the administration would make it easier for Dreamers to be sponsored for a work visa by their employer.

“It’s been a big fear for me that DACA could end,” said Monica Sandoval, 32, an emergency room nurse in Columbus, Ind., who enrolled in the program immediately after it was unveiled.

Ms. Sandoval has renewed every two years, enabling her to keep her job and her nursing license.

She hoped the new process would allow her employer, a regional hospital, to sponsor her for a work visa and then a green card.

“This would be life-changing for me,” said Ms. Sandoval, who was brought to the United States when she was 12 and is the mother of two young children. “It would bring security to me and my kids, and I’d know for sure that I could keep doing the work I love to do.”

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