Biden Announces Pathway to Legal Residence for Undocumented Spouses of US Citizens, Affecting Hundreds of Thousands of Immigrants

By: Alex Trent | Published: Jun 18, 2024

On Tuesday, the White House released a fact sheet announcing new actions from President Joe Biden intended to protect non-citizen residents of the United States in an effort to “keep families together.”

These executive actions would open up legal pathways for undocumented spouses and children of US citizens which would offer relief to hundreds of thousands of immigrants without legal US status.

White House Announcement

The announcement from the Biden administration begins by listing off things Biden has done to secure the border while in office, describing the immigration system as “broken” and placing the blame on Republicans.

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“Since his first day in office, President Biden has called on Congress to secure our border and address our broken immigration system. As Congressional Republicans have continued to put partisan politics ahead of national security – twice voting against the toughest and fairest set of reforms in decades – the President and his Administration have taken actions to secure the border,” said the White House statement.

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New Actions

The Biden administration then announced a series of new executive actions that it is calling a movement to “keep American families together.”

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A mother and daughter from Colombia pose for a photo.

Source: Jhon David/Unsplash

“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,” the White House said.

Lawful Permanent Residence

These executive actions from Biden will create a “new process” to “help certain noncitizen spouses and children apply for lawful permanent residence – status that they are already eligible for – without leaving the country.”

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The hope from the Biden administration is that this process will allow families to remain together in the wake of some states like Texas passing laws making it easier to deport undocumented immigrants.

Strengthen the Country

In the statement, the White House outlines the motivations for these actions, feeling they are important for keeping America strong.

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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 statement said.

Eligibility

To qualify to be eligible under these new actions, noncitizens need to have been residing in the United States for at least 10 years as of June 17, 2024.

A closeup shot at Joe Biden’s hands as he holds a pen.

Source: The White House/Wikimedia

These noncitizens must already be legally married to a US citizen and satisfy other legal requirements. “On average, those who are eligible for this process have resided in the U.S. for 23 years,” said the White House statement.

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Possible Impact

According to the White House, as many as half a million immigrants who are spouses of US citizens will be affected by the move.

A Border Patrol Agent dealing with a border crossing.

Source: CBP Photography/Wikimedia

This new process will also apply to “approximately 50,000 noncitizen children under the age of 21 whose parent is married to a U.S. citizen.”

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Visas for Dreamers

So-called “dreamers,” who were recipients of former President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, will also receive new benefits.

A healthcare worker wearing a surgical hat and facemask.

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“Today’s announcement will allow individuals, including DACA recipients and other Dreamers, who have earned a degree at an accredited U.S. institution of higher education in the United States, and who have received an offer of employment from a U.S. employer in a field related to their degree, to more quickly receive work visas,” said the White House.

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Dream Come True

This will likely be a breakthrough for many US citizens who are married to noncitizen spouses that before had to wait years for their spouses to legally return to the country.

An agent for U.S. Customs and Border Protection watching the border form his truck.

Source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection/Wikimedia

“[It] would be a dream come true…My husband could be with us,” said Claudia Zúniga of Houston who married a man living in the United States before he was forced to leave for Mexico. “We could focus on the well-being of our children.”

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Two Considerations

President Biden has to carefully consider actions he makes regarding immigrants and the US border ahead of the election as forces pull him in multiple directions. Biden needs to look tough on the border to satisfy concerns many Americans have about the recent unprecedented influx of migrants into the country.

Biden walks alongside border patrol agents dressed in uniform.

Source: The White House/Wikimedia

However, Biden also needs to be seen as compassionate to immigrants, an issue popular with his Democrat voting base and a contrast point that Biden himself has made with his opponent Donald Trump.

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Balancing Act

A Whitehouse spokesperson gave a statement about the new announcement that perfectly encapsulated the different interests Biden has to appeal to at the same time.

Traditional scales of justice sitting on a wooden surface

Source: Sora Shimazaki/Pexels

“President Biden believes that securing the border is essential,” a White House spokesperson said of the announcement. “He also belies 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.”

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Migrant Crisis

Biden’s actions are the latest in response to a recent influx of migrants crossing the US border and taking up residence in America’s cities. 2022 saw 2.2 million migrants cross into the United States.

A checkpoint for U.S. Border Patrol

Source: Jonathan McIntosh/Wikimedia

According to a House Committee on Homeland Security fact sheet from October, the number of encounters at the US Southwest border has increased by 40% since 2021, and over 100% since 2019. 

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