Biden immigration policy: US unveils legal route for illegal immigrant spouses of citizens

The United States unveiled a significant new Biden immigration policy on Tuesday, offering a pathway to citizenship for roughly half a million immigrants married to U.S. citizens but lacking legal status.

This move, one of President Joe Biden’s most extensive immigration policies to date, is poised to benefit many families living in the shadows and has been a long-standing demand from migrant advocates.

Background and Changes to Immigration Policy

Previously, U.S. immigration law allowed American citizens to apply for permanent residence for their non-citizen spouses, but the process was fraught with complications if the spouse had been living in the U.S. illegally.

These individuals often had to leave the country and apply from their home nations, facing a ban of three to ten years depending on the duration of their unauthorised stay in the U.S.

The waiver process to avoid this prolonged separation was both slow and uncertain, averaging about three and a half years.

Under the new policy, eligible spouses can apply for lawful permanent residence without leaving the U.S.

To qualify, they must have lived in the country for at least ten years, pose no security threat, and have been married by June 17, 2024.

Also read: Canada to adjust immigration policy amid rising unemployment

Applications will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which will assess factors such as immigration history, criminal records, and potential fraud.

Approved applicants will have three years to apply for permanent residency and can receive work authorisation during this period.

Scope and Impact

The new policy could impact around 500,000 immigrants and an additional 50,000 of their children, according to FWD.us, an immigration advocacy organisation.

Most beneficiaries are expected to be from Mexico, with the average immigrant spouse having lived in the U.S. for over two decades, according to The Associated Press.

Biden’s announcement was made during a ceremony at the White House, highlighting the administration’s commitment to balancing border security with compassionate immigration reform.

“The Statue of Liberty is not some relic of American history. It still stands for who we are,” Biden stated. “But I also refuse to believe that for us to continue to be America that embraces immigration, we have to give up securing our border. They’re false choices.”

Political Reactions and Future Implications

Biden’s policy marks a stark contrast to the immigration stance of former President Donald Trump, who emphasised mass deportations and harsh rhetoric towards migrants, AP reports.

Also read: UK introduces new Policy on Immigration for the Skilled Workers

Trump, during a rally in Wisconsin, criticised Biden’s plan as “illegal amnesty” and vowed to overturn it if re-elected. This political tension underscores the urgency for Latino organisations and other advocates to encourage eligible individuals to apply before potential changes in administration.

Republicans have sharply criticised the new policy, calling it a “mass amnesty plan.” Legal challenges are anticipated, with opponents likely to argue against the directive in court.

Broader Immigration Strategy

This initiative is part of a broader two-pronged strategy by the Biden administration, which has simultaneously tightened asylum qualifications at the southern border and created pathways for legal entry.

Notably, the administration previously introduced a programme allowing people from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela to enter the U.S. with a financial sponsor, background check, and arrival via a U.S. airport. This programme has already facilitated the entry of nearly 435,000 people.

In conjunction with the new spousal programme, the administration announced regulatory changes to aid Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients in obtaining work visas. These measures provide more stable employment opportunities and a pathway to permanent residency for young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.

Also Read: Donald Trump promises international students automatic US green card after graduation

Community Impact and Reactions

For families like Antonio and Brenda Valle in Los Angeles, this policy offers a chance to plan for a stable future. Brenda, a DACA recipient, expressed relief that they can now consider long-term plans without the constant fear of status renewal, according to The Associated Press.

Foday Turay, an assistant district attorney in Philadelphia, shared the profound impact of the policy on his family, alleviating worries about deportation and allowing them to raise their son in the U.S.

Advocates such as Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA, and Rep. Pramila Jayapal, leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, have praised the policy for keeping American families together and energising Latino communities to support Biden.

Andrea Flores of FWD.us highlighted the policy as a significant victory for the immigrant rights movement, likening it to the impact of the DACA announcement 12 years ago.

As the Department of Homeland Security prepares to implement the new programme by the end of summer, immigrant communities and advocacy groups are gearing up to ensure as many eligible individuals as possible apply for the newfound pathway to citizenship.

Samuel Bolaji

Samuel Bolaji holds a Master of Letters in Publishing Studies from the University of Stirling, Scotland, United Kingdom, and a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Lagos, Nigeria. He is an experienced researcher, multimedia journalist, writer, and Editor. He is currently the Editor of Arbiterz.

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