Biden Administration Considers Protection for Undocumented Spouses of U.S. Citizens

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The Biden administration is considering a proposal to protect undocumented spouses of U.S. citizens from deportation and allow them to work in the country legally, according to four officials with knowledge of the discussions.

The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter, said that no final decision had been made and that the shape of the policy was unclear. Any such program could also provide some spouses an easier route to obtain U.S. citizenship.

The proposal comes as President Biden has moved to address political liabilities in his immigration policy in recent days.

Last week, he moved to bar asylum for migrants crossing into the United States as part of an effort to toughen border enforcement, eliciting criticism from members of his own party. And now, a move to protect undocumented immigrants in the United States could help Mr. Biden address some of the fierce resistance that order elicited and shore up support among immigrant advocates, Latino voters and his progressive base.

The program said to be under consideration is known as “parole in place,” which has been used in the past for other populations, like families of military members. It gives undocumented immigrants in the United States protection from deportation for a certain period of time and access to a work permit.

Crucially, it also makes it easier for some undocumented immigrants to gain new access to a green card and a path to U.S. citizenship.

Generally, unlawful entry into the country blocks people’s access to U.S. citizenship in cases in which they would have otherwise been eligible, like being married to a U.S. citizen. Parole in place, however, helps some immigrants obtain a “lawful immigration status” and become eligible to begin the process of becoming citizens.

It is unclear how many people such a program could affect.

Mr. Biden’s executive order last week prompted immediate blowback, with some congressional Democrats likening it to a Trump-era measure to stop migrants from gaining access to protections in the United States.

“While there are some differences from Trump’s actions, the reality is that this utilizes the same failed enforcement-only approach, penalizes asylum seekers and furthers a false narrative that these actions will ‘fix’ the border,” Representative Pramila Jayapal, Democrat of Washington, said in a statement last week.

Even as he announced a restrictive border policy last week, Mr. Biden appeared to indicate that he was considering more progressive moves on immigration.

“For those who say the steps I’ve taken are too strict, I say to you that — be patient,” Mr. Biden said on Tuesday.

A White House spokesman said on Sunday that the administration had been considering many options.

“As we have said before, the administration continues to explore a series of policy options and we remain committed to taking action to address our broken immigration system,” the spokesman said in a statement.

Immigration advocates have left briefings with the White House optimistic about the potential for the protection, but also did not receive any indication that the administration would act right away.

Immigrant advocacy groups like Fwd.US have said that more than a million undocumented spouses of U.S. citizens are in the country.

“We are optimistic and working tirelessly to ensure that President Biden takes action to protect the long-term undocumented in our country, including the estimated 1.1 million undocumented people in the U.S. who are spouses of an American citizen,” said Andrea Flores, a former administration official and vice president of immigration policy at Fwd. US.

“Doing so would fulfill his Day 1 promise to keep these families together,” she said.

Recent surveys show many Americans, including Democrats and Latinos, favor both tougher immigration enforcement and legal pathways to citizenship.

The embrace of more restrictive policies has come as more cities and states have scrambled to accommodate record numbers of migrants entering the country, and as an increasing number of Republican candidates nationwide have played on fears that migrants pose a threat to jobs, elections and the cultural identity of the nation, even as they run in races far from the border.

Mr. Biden’s shift on immigration has been seen by some political strategists as a play to neutralize the issue for white, blue-collar voters in Midwestern swing states like Michigan and Wisconsin. But a perception that Mr. Biden is echoing the Trump administration’s playbook or prioritizing enforcement over improving legal pathways to citizenship risks depressing the vote among younger Latinos and progressives who have powered major Democratic victories across the Southwest.

Many Mexican American and Latino activists and elected officials in California, Arizona and Nevada have come of age and entered politics through immigrant-rights movements.

Charles Franklin, who directs the Marquette Law School Poll, said that respondents in Wisconsin polling tended to see former President Donald J. Trump as better on the issue of immigration than Mr. Biden by a 2-to-1 ratio, a potentially insurmountable hurdle for the president this late in the race.

The best argument for Mr. Biden’s tougher enforcement policies, Mr. Franklin said, might be to reduce the salience of the issue among independents and swing voters, whose views remain more persuadable but whose response is an open question.

“The percentage of Democrats who support deportation is surprisingly high, but he has a bigger faction within his party that is quite troubled by his recent actions,” Mr. Franklin said. “It is a divided set of gains and losses for him with these policies.”

The Trump campaign last week made its own play for Latino voters by rebranding its “Latinos Trump” effort to “Latino Americans for Trump.” Campaign officials said the new label was meant to draw Latino voters by emphasizing a unifying American identity. But Latino historians and researchers have also called it a strategic move to drive a wedge among Hispanic voters, some of whom are concerned by the arrival of new migrants.

The American Civil Liberties Union has indicated that it will sue the Biden administration over Mr. Biden’s measure limiting asylum access at the southern border.

On Sunday, Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the Homeland Security secretary, said the administration was prepared to take on any legal challenges to Mr. Biden’s executive action.

“I anticipate they will sue us,” Mr. Mayorkas, appearing on ABC’s “The Week,” said of the potential for lawsuits. “We stand by the legality of what we have done. We stand by the value proposition.”



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