Biden offers citizenship to 500,000 spouses of US citizens

• 50,000 children under age 21 too


President Joe Biden, yesterday, announced one of the biggest legalisation efforts in recent history, offering a path to citizenship to hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants in the United States who are married to US citizens.

The election year move contrasts sharply with his Republican rival former president Donald Trump’s plan for mass deportations. The programme will be open to an estimated 500,000 spouses who have lived in the US for at least 10 years as of June 17, 2024, the White House and US Department of Homeland Security said in statements, yesterday.

Some 50,000 children under age 21 with US-citizen parents also will be eligible. “These actions will promote family unity and strengthen our economy,” the White House said.

Biden, a Democrat seeking a second term in November’s presidential election, took office vowing to reverse many restrictive immigration policies of his predecessor Trump, who is also looking to return to the White House. But faced with record levels of migrant arrests at the US-Mexico border, Biden has toughened his approach in recent months.

Earlier this month, Biden barred most migrants crossing the US-Mexico border from requesting asylum, a policy that mirrored a similar Trump-era asylum ban and drew criticism from immigration advocates and some Democrats.

Biden’s planned legalisation programme for spouses of US citizens could reinforce his campaign message that he supports a more humane immigration system and show how he differs from Trump, who has long had a hardline stance on both legal and illegal immigration.

The programme will allow the spouses and children to apply for permanent residence without leaving the US, removing a potentially lengthy process and family separation. If they are granted green cards, they could eventually apply for US citizenship.

People who are considered public security threats or who have disqualifying criminal history would not be eligible.

The implementation will roll out in coming months and the majority of likely beneficiaries would be Mexicans, senior Biden administration officials said on a call with sewsmen.

Biden spoke about the announcement during an event tied to the anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme, yesterday, at the White House  where he was accompanied by Democratic lawmakers, immigration advocates, DACA recipients and spouses of undocumented people.

Former president Barack Obama and then vice president Biden launched the DACA programme in 2012, another major legalisation effort that currently grants deportation relief and work permits to 528,000 people brought to the US as children.

Trump campaign spokesperson, Karoline Leavitt, called Biden’s new programme ‘amnesty’ and in a statement reiterated Trump’s deportation pledge, saying he would “restore the rule of law” if re-elected. A little more than half of US voters back deporting all or most illegal immigrants in the US, Reuters/Ipsos polling shows.

At the same time, separate polling by the advocacy group Immigration Hub found, opens a new tab 71 percent of voters in seven election battleground states backed allowing spouses in the US for more than five years to remain.

Rebecca Shi, executive director of the American Business Immigration Coalition, said focus groups conducted by her organisation with independent and Republican voters found they supported legal status for spouses.

“It boosts turnout in terms of Latino and base voters, but it also has support with the middle and the right,” she said on a call with newsmen on Monday, adding that most people thought the spouses could already legalise.

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