Biden executive action to protect 500K illegal immigrants from deportation

U.S. President Joe Biden
U.S. President Joe Biden | MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

President Joe Biden has issued new executive actions that could protect hundreds of thousands of people from deportation by allowing certain undocumented spouses and children of United States citizens to apply for lawful permanent residency without leaving the country. 

“Today, President Biden is announcing that the Department of Homeland Security will take action to ensure that U.S. citizens with noncitizen spouses and children can keep their families together,” a fact sheet released by the White House Tuesday states. “This new process will help certain noncitizen spouses and children apply for lawful permanent residence — status that they are already eligible for — without leaving the country.”

To be eligible for protection, noncitizens must have resided in the U.S. for at least 10 years or more, be legally married to a U.S. citizen and satisfy all legal requirements. According to the White House, those who are eligible for the process have, on average, resided in the U.S. for 23 years.

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“These actions will promote family unity and strengthen our economy, providing a significant benefit to the country and helping U.S. citizens and their noncitizen family members stay together,” the White House statement reads.

Applications will be approved on a case-by-case basis. Those accepted into the program will be given three years to apply for permanent residency, during which time they will be able to remain with their families and be eligible for work authorization. 

The White House estimates that the action will “protect approximately half a million spouses of U.S. citizens, and approximately 50,000 noncitizen children under the age of 21 whose parent is married to a U.S. citizen.”

In addition, the announcement will allow recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals deportation protection for undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. as minors who have earned a degree at an accredited U.S. institution of higher education and received an employment offer from a U.S. employer in a field related to their degree to receive work visas more quickly. 

“Recognizing that it is in our national interest to ensure that individuals who are educated in the U.S. are able to use their skills and education to benefit our country, the Administration is taking action to facilitate the employment visa process for those who have graduated from college and have a high-skilled job offer, including DACA recipients and other Dreamers,” the statement reads. 

The new executive actions come just weeks after Biden issued executive actions to prohibit migrants who illegally enter the U.S. from receiving asylum when the border enforcement agencies are overwhelmed, while still allowing 2,500 people to enter the country daily, or over 900,000 people annually.

Tuesday’s announcement was met with praise from faith-based immigration resettlement agencies. 

“We’re encouraged to see the Biden administration protect a vulnerable group of people who have come to call the U.S. their home,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Global Refuge, formerly known as Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. 

“This move will provide a sense of relief to the thousands of mixed immigration status families living in the shadows in this country who qualify. The emotional toll these families have experienced due to the uncertainty about their loved ones’ ability to stay in this country had to be immeasurable.”

The executive actions were criticized by Senate Republicans ahead of the announcement. Republican Whip Sen. John Thune of South Dakota said the plan would increase “incentive for people to come here illegally.”

“I am sure they’ll be challenged,” Thune said, according to CNN

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., told the outlet that a better solution would be to pass a bipartisan immigration reform bill, which Congress has failed to do for decades. Tillis was among several Republicans who voted against the bipartisan border security bill earlier this year. Republicans accused the bill of failing to solve the border crisis and incentivizing illegal immigration. 

Considering the move is expected to be challenged in court, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement that passing legislation is the only way to guarantee legal protections for eligible immigrants. 

Amid a closely contested 2024 presidential election, public polling suggests that Americans largely disapprove of Biden’s handling of illegal immigration and the border. The Real Clear Politics average of polls on the immigration issue conducted between May 15 and June 11 show Biden is 28 percentage points underwater.

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