Biden to unveil protections for some undocumented spouses, easier DACA work visas

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File photo by Tar Macias / Hola Iowa
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By Ariana Figueroa, Iowa Capital Dispatch

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Biden administration Tuesday will announce deportation protections for long-term undocumented immigrants married to U.S. citizens, along with quicker approval of work permits for those in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA).

President Joe Biden will formally make the announcement during an afternoon White House event to celebrate the 12th anniversary of the DACA program. The initiative was launched during the Obama administration and was meant to temporarily protect undocumented children brought into the United States without authorization.

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The new policies were previewed by senior administration officials to reporters late Monday.

The new DACA policy will allow those recipients who have graduated from an accredited university and have an offer by a U.S. employer for a highly skilled job to quickly qualify for one of the existing temporary work visas, such as an H-1B visa.

The new policies came two weeks after Biden enacted his harshest crackdown on immigration with a partial ban on asylum proceedings at the southern border. Immigration remains a top issue for voters and for Biden’s GOP rival, former President Donald Trump.

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Democrats and immigration advocates have long pressed the Biden administration to instill permanent protections for the nearly 579,000 DACA recipients as they await a decision from the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals that could deem the program unlawful. The legal dispute is likely to head to the Supreme Court.

Many immigration policy experts have called DACA outdated, because there are now thousands of undocumented people who are not eligible for the program because they were not even born yet. To qualify, an undocumented person needs to have continuously resided in the U.S. since 2007.

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Biden pushed to take action

Americans with undocumented spouses have expressed their frustration and pushed for the Biden administration to use executive action to grant relief for the more than 1.1 million Americans who fear their undocumented spouses could face deportation.

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The deportation protections to those married to a U.S. citizens are a one-time action expected to allow roughly 500,000 noncitizen spouses and their children to apply for a lawful permanent residence — a green card — under certain requirements.

To qualify, a noncitizen must have resided in the U.S. for 10 years as of Monday, June 17, 2024, and be married to a U.S. citizen since that date as well. That spouse who is a noncitizen also cannot be deemed a security threat.

The Department of Homeland Security will consider those applications, which are expected to be open by the end of summer, on a case-by-case basis, a senior administration official said.

This move is also expected to affect roughly 50,000 children who are noncitizens and have an immigrant parent married to a U.S. citizen.

For those children to qualify, they have to be 21 or younger, unmarried “and the marriage between the parents has to have taken place before the child turned 18,” a senior administration official said.

Under current U.S. immigration law, if a noncitizen enters the country without authorization, they are ineligible for permanent legal status and would be required to leave the U.S. and reenter legally through a green card application by their U.S. spouse, which is a lengthy process that can take years.

“The challenges and uncertainty of this process result in many eligible spouses not applying for permanent residence,” a senior administration official said.

Application info coming

More information on the application and eligibility process will be published in the Federal Register in the coming weeks, a senior administration official said.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which oversees the legal immigration system, has a similar program that allows noncitizens who are immediate family members of U.S. military service members to obtain green cards without leaving the country.

“This announcement utilizes existing authorities to keep families together,” a senior administration official said. “But … only Congress can fix our broken immigration system.”

Any immigration reform from Congress is unlikely, with Republicans in control of the House and Democrats controlling the Senate. A bipartisan border security deal fell apart earlier this year. There was no pathway to citizenship in that deal for DACA recipients or longtime immigrants.

The closest Congress came to bipartisan immigration reform was in 2013, when the “Gang of Eight,” made up of four Republican and four Democratic senators, crafted a bill that would create a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented people.

It passed the Senate, but Republican House Speaker John Boehner never brought the bill to the floor for a vote.

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