Biden to Give Legal Status to Immigrant Spouses of U.S. Citizens

Program could offer work permits, deportation protections and open a path to apply for green cards

President Biden is expected to announce a new immigration program Tuesday that would provide a path to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of immigrants in the country illegally who are married to U.S. citizens, according to lawmakers and others familiar with the matter.

Biden plans to make the announcement at the White House alongside members of Congress, immigration advocates and U.S. citizens who, because of arcane immigration rules, haven’t been able to sponsor their spouses for green cards.

The program has the potential to benefit immigrants who have been living in the country at least a decade, offering them work permits, deportation protections—and a route for them to apply for green cards, which is the pathway to citizenship. The program’s size would make it one of the largest immigration initiatives started in recent decades, rivaled only by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that former President Barack Obama created to benefit Dreamers in 2012. The White House is also planning to mark the 12-year anniversary of that program, known as DACA, at the event Tuesday.

The Wall Street Journal earlier reported that Biden was weighing the spouses program.

Two weeks ago, Biden announced, in an election-year gamble to lower illegal crossings, one of his harshest immigration policies to date: a blanket asylum ban on immigrants crossing the border illegally. The president’s advisers have thought for months that, to avoid further angering immigration advocates and Latino voters with family members lacking a legal status, new border restrictions ought to be paired with a sweetener to benefit longtime immigrants already living in the U.S.

The president’s team homed in on the idea of providing immigration relief to spouses because a much smaller version of the program already had existed for a decade for military families, according to people familiar with the discussions. His advisers also pointed to internal Democratic polling that found that most Americans support granting legal status to spouses of U.S. citizens, even if they entered the country illegally.

The new program also has the benefit of targeting a population that immigration advocates have told the White House had been feeling neglected. Though the administration has created several new initiatives to grant more than a million newly-arriving immigrants work permits, immigrants without permanent legal status who have been living in the U.S. for decades—who are primarily Mexican—haven’t benefited.

Even if a migrant who entered the country via the southern border marries a U.S. citizen, the law says he or she must first leave the country for 10 years before becoming eligible for a green card.

Ahead of the announcement, Republicans already had attacked the idea as a form of mass amnesty.

Biden’s new program is underpinned by a provision of immigration law known as parole in place, which essentially allows the government to “admit” these immigrants legally, overriding their illegal entry. That makes it much easier to apply for a green card and can’t easily be undone by former President Donald Trump should he be elected to a second term. And, while immigrants apply for permanent residency, the parole in place grants them deportation relief and access to a work permit.