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Biden unveils new immigration program offering legal status to 500,000 spouses of U.S. citizens

New Biden program protects undocumented spouses
Biden announces executive action protecting undocumented spouses of U.S. citizens 02:31

Washington — President Biden on Tuesday announced a large-scale immigration program that will offer legal status and a streamlined path to U.S. residency and citizenship to roughly half a million unauthorized immigrants who are married to American citizens.

As CBS News has previously reported, the Department of Homeland Security policy, known as "Parole in Place," will allow these immigrants to apply for work permits and deportation protections if they have lived in the U.S. for at least 10 years and meet other requirements. The program still requires undocumented spouses to file necessary paperwork and pass a criminal background check, and doesn't apply to future migrants. The president said the actions he announced Tuesday will go into effect "later this summer." 

"Today I'm announcing a common sense fix to streamline the process for obtaining legal status for immigrants married to American citizens who live here and have lived here for a long time," the president said from the White House. "For those wives or husbands and their children who have lived in America for a decade or more but are undocumented, this action will allow them to file the paperwork for legal status in the United States."

President Biden speaks at the White House in Washington, D.C., on June 18, 2024.
President Biden speaks at the White House in Washington, D.C., on June 18, 2024. DREW ANGERER/AFP via Getty Images

Administration officials estimate that roughly 500,000 unauthorized immigrants with U.S. citizen spouses will qualify for the Parole in Place program. Applicants must have been legally married to their American citizen spouse by June 17. Those who are deemed to pose a threat to national security or public safety will not qualify.

The Department of Homeland Security said the spouses who would benefit from the program have been in the country for an average of 23 years.

The president's announcement came during an event marking the 12th anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. Implemented by President Barack Obama, DACA offered deportation protections for hundreds of thousands of minors who were brought to the U.S. as children, known as "Dreamers." A federal judge in Texas last year ruled that the DACA program is unlawful, barring the acceptance of new applications. 

Mr. Biden's new program is expected to unlock a path to permanent residency — known as a green card — and ultimately U.S. citizenship for many of its beneficiaries. If upheld in court, the policy would be the largest government program to protect undocumented migrants since DACA.

An immigrant who marries a U.S. citizen is generally eligible for a green card. But current federal law requires immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally to leave the country and re-enter legally to be eligible for a green card. Leaving the U.S. after living illegally in the country for certain periods of time can trigger a 10-year ban, leading many mixed-status families to not pursue this process.

The Biden administration's policy would allow eligible immigrants to obtain a green card without having to leave the U.S. After 5 years of living in the U.S. as a green card holder, immigrants can apply for American citizenship.

The president blasted his predecessor and 2024 opponent, insisting the U.S. can both secure the border and provide pathways to citizenship. 

"The Statue of Liberty is not some relic of American history," Mr. Biden said. "It stands, still stands, for who we are. 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. We can both secure the border and provide legal pathways to citizenship. We have to acknowledge that the patience and goodwill of the American people is being tested by their fears at the border. They don't understand a lot of it. These are the fears my predecessor is trying to play on."

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