President Joe Biden speaks at an event marking the 12th...

President Joe Biden speaks at an event marking the 12th anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in the East Room at the White House on June 18 in Washington, DC. Biden announced a new program that will provide protections for undocumented immigrants married to U.S. citizens, allowing them to obtain work authorization and streamline their path to citizenship. Credit: Getty Images/Kevin Dietsch

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced a sweeping new immigration policy that provides legal protections and a path to citizenship for noncitizen immigrants who are married to U.S. citizens and have been in the country illegally for years.

The executive action, the most expansive immigration step in a decade, will shield about 500,000 noncitizen spouses and 50,000 of their children nationwide from deportation, allowing the adults to work here legally as they seek citizenship, administration officials said.

“Today I'm announcing the commonsense fix to streamline the process for obtaining legal status for immigrants married to American citizens who live here and lived here for a long time,” Biden said in the White House East Room.

Instead of requiring noncitizen spouses to leave the country to apply for legal status, Biden said, his order allows those who have lived here for a decade or more to work and remain with their families in the United States while they file paperwork for legal status.

“It’s simple,” Biden said. “It embraces the American principle that we should keep families together.”

Biden unveiled the policy at an event to mark the 12th anniversary of former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that allowed noncitizen youth brought to the United States by their parents to remain in the country.

Biden on Tuesday also revealed a new policy to speed the granting of work visas to DACA program recipients who have earned U.S. college degrees and have job offers from an employer in their field.

Potent issue

Biden’s announcement comes as he and Democrats seek to counter the issue of immigration and border control that ranks as a top political issue in polls and is a major attack line against him by his Republican presidential rival Donald Trump and other GOP candidates.

And it comes two weeks after Biden announced his harshest crackdown on immigration with a blanket asylum ban for those crossing the southern border illegally.

Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), whose head-on approach to immigration during his successful special election campaign in New York's 3rd Congressional District in February influenced Democrats, stood with others behind Biden during the White House event.

In May, Suozzi and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) joined the American Business Immigration Coalition and Families United in calling on Biden to issue executive orders to bring “order to the border” and to give more work permits to families with noncitizen members.

Their calls echoed those of other lawmakers and pro-immigrant groups.

“I think the president is adopting a similar outlook: You’ve got to be tough on securing the border but still treat people like human beings,” Suozzi told Newsday before the event Tuesday.

Republican criticism

Trump’s campaign slammed Biden’s executive action. “Biden has created another invitation for illegal immigration through his mass amnesty order,” said Karoline Leavitt, Trump campaign national press secretary.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) told radio host Hugh Hewitt only Congress can decide legal status. “And the people that he's going to purport to grant legal status to today are plainly in the country illegally,” Cotton said. “The president does not have the legal authority to give them legal status.”

Activists on both sides of the issue expect a legal challenge to Biden’s actions.

How it works

The program for noncitizens with citizen spouse will begin this summer, Biden said, and is based on a 2013 policy that allows noncitizen spouses and children of American service members to stay together in the United States while they apply for legal status.

Under the new policy, noncitizen spouses must have lived in the United States for 10 or more years as of Monday and must be married to a U.S. citizen.

Applicants approved by the federal Homeland Security Department have three years to apply for permanent residency and can remain with their families in the United States. They will be eligible for work authorization for up to three years.

“This is a big deal. And it's the kind of decisive action by President Biden that will help the country and help him politically,” said Vanessa Cárdenas, executive director of America’s Voice, a nonprofit pro-immigrant advocacy group.

“What we think he needs to do now is to draw sharp distinctions between his approach and the Trump approach,” she said.

Noncitizen Spouses

To be eligible for the new policy, noncitizen noncitizens must have resided in the United States for 10 or more years as of Monday and be married to a U.S. citizen while satisfying all applicable legal requirements.

Applicants approved by the Homeland Security Department in case-by-case assessments will have three years to apply for permanent residency and will be allowed to remain with their families in the United States. They also will be eligible for work authorization for up to three years.

Source: The White House

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