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Biden to waive penalties for undocumented spouses of U.S. citizens

President Biden will clear the way Tuesday for hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants married to U.S. citizens to apply for legal residency under one of the most expansive immigration programs of his presidency, according to two federal officials familiar with the plans.

The policy shift is a bold move by the Democratic president months before the November election and a rebuke to congressional Republicans who have ignored his calls to strengthen border security and provide a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. , several for decades.

Biden will unveil those policies at a White House celebration to mark the 12th anniversary of another executive action taken to help immigrants when he was vice president. On June 15, In 2012, President Barack Obama said he would allow undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children to apply for work permits, a program that has transformed hundreds of thousands of lives.

The White House had no immediate comment on Tuesday’s announcement.

Marrying a U.S. citizen is typically a fast track to U.S. citizenship, but immigrants who cross the border illegally are subject to significant bureaucratic hurdles that have left them in limbo for years. Federal law requires these immigrants to leave the United States for up to 10 years and then apply to return, but immigrants consider this punishment excessive.

Biden will allow undocumented spouses to apply for legal residency without having to leave the United States, a major relief for those who have jobs and are raising young children and fear there is no guarantee they will be allowed to return to the country.

“It’s just too much risk for me to leave my wife, my son and everything we have established in the United States,” said Foday Turay, a 27-year-old Sierra Leonean immigrant married to a U.S. citizen and among those invited to Biden’s White House announcement.

Turay crossed the Mexican border illegally in 2003, when he was 7, to join his mother, who had previously fled war in that country. He is now an assistant district attorney in Philadelphia and has a work permit under Obama’s 2012 program. But he said he wanted to become a citizen.

About 500,000 undocumented spouses and 50,000 undocumented stepchildren of U.S. citizens are expected to be eligible, federal officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the proposal.

To be eligible, immigrants must have lived in the United States for at least a decade and meet other requirements.

Biden is also expected to announce a work visa program for current enrollees in Obama’s 2012 program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, and for others who were excluded from the program after the Trump administration called it an illegal amnesty and ruled to end it in 2017.

A federal judge in Texas ruled that DACA was illegal and limited to existing enrollees while the case was pending. Biden will allow some Dreamers to apply for work visas, giving them a stronger legal footing than the Deferred Action program, the officials said.

Details of both programs are still being developed and are expected to be made public over the summer, officials said.

Anyone applying must pass a criminal background check and meet other requirements, according to standard immigration procedures.

Angela Kelley, senior counsel at the American Immigration Lawyers Association and a former Biden administration official at the Department of Homeland Security, called the move a “game changer” for immigrant families.

“They no longer need to look over their shoulder and worry about separation from their families,” she said of those related to U.S. citizens.

As with DACA, immigrant advocates expect a fierce backlash against the program from Republicans who have challenged similar policies in court.

But lawyers said Biden’s agenda for undocumented spouses should be on solid legal ground. because the legal authority will be “parole in place”, which is already authorized under federal law and therefore potentially protected from legal challenge in court.

“Parol has been around for decades and is used in many different contexts,” said Kerri Talbot, executive director of the Immigration Hub, an advocacy group. “I think the courts will recognize the importance of having that power.”

The nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute estimates that 1.1 million to 1.3 million undocumented immigrants are married to U.S. citizens. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants will therefore be excluded from the program because they have not been here in a decade, have a criminal record or for other reasons. the reasons.

Immigrant advocates say even the modest spousal program will be a major relief for immigrants and the millions of other U.S. citizens in their families who they hope will vote in the November election.

“I hope this also inspires people not to sit idly by,” said Marielena Hincapié, a researcher at Cornell Law School and former executive director of the National Immigration Law Center. “I hope it will be an indirect benefit of an announcement like this.”

Some Democrats criticized Biden as his early efforts to provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants were overshadowed by a record number of new migrants arriving at the U.S. southern border, prompting him to crack down on illegal crossings. This month, he created new asylum restrictions because he said border apprehensions had reached emergency levels.

But Biden has also deployed his executive powers to protect undocumented immigrants more broadly than any other president. The Biden administration has granted temporary protected status to more than a million immigrants in the United States and allowed entry to hundreds of thousands of other groups fleeing violence or poverty abroad. His administration has also stopped conducting workplace raids or other crackdowns that would target long-term undocumented immigrants.

Democratic lawmakers and advocacy groups have urged Biden for months to expand aid to long-term undocumented immigrants, as his Republican rival, former President Donald Trump, threatened mass deportations if he was elected in November.

Turay, a prosecutor, expressed frustration at being the only member of his family not a U.S. citizen, after decades in the United States, a law degree and a job as a civil servant. He married his wife on June 17 last year and they have a 10-month-old son.

Turay said his mother initially fled Sierra Leone because she qualified for refugee status, but he added she could not take him with her immediately. She left him in the care of his grandmother and sent for him when the woman fell ill; she later died.

“She took extreme measures,” he said of his mother. “There was no question of her leaving her only child” alone.

But because of his illegal crossing, he said, he fears he will not be allowed to return to the country if he leaves to apply for legal residency through his wife.

“It’s absurd that I’m still dealing with all this,” he said. “Instead of focusing on crime victims, I’m here trying to get relief to stay.”

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