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Al Jazeera
Al Jazeera
Al Jazeera Staff

Biden’s new immigration plan: How will it work?

DACA recipient Javier Quiroz Castro introduces US President Joe Biden before the announcement of an executive action to provide immigration relief [Anna Rose Layden/Reuters]

United States President Joe Biden has announced an initiative that can offer citizenship to roughly half a million undocumented immigrants married to US citizens in a move ahead of the November presidential election.

“The Statue of Liberty is not some relic of American history. It still stands for who we are,” Biden said at the White House on Tuesday, as he articulated his Democratic Party’s line on immigration – a hot-button issue in the country.

“But I also refuse to believe that for us to continue to be an America that embraces immigration, we have to give up securing our border. They’re false choices,” he said defending the curbs on asylum-seeking at the US-Mexico border announced on June 4.

The move will also pave the way for the children of these immigrants to attain US citizenship. A White House statement said the move will “ensure that US citizens with non-citizen spouses and children can keep their families together”.

Here’s more about the new programme announced months ahead of the presidential elections:

What is Biden’s new immigration plan?

  • Under the sweeping new immigration plan, undocumented spouses of US citizens who have been living in the US can request lawful permanent residence while staying in the country.
  • However, the requests will not all be approved and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will consider these requests on a case-by-case basis.
  • To be eligible, the spouses have to be married and living in the US for at least 10 years as of June 17, 2024, and “not pose a threat to public safety or national security”, according to a DHS fact sheet.
  • The processing of permanent residence applications can take months to years. Those granted permanent residency, called getting a “green card” in the US, can apply for US citizenship.
  • Before this plan was introduced, spouses living in the US without documents would have to travel to their home country and apply for citizenship at a consulate – a process that could take anywhere from three to 10 years.
  • “They [undocumented spouses of US citizens] have to leave their families in America with no assurance that they will be allowed back in the United States. So they stay in America, but in the shadows, living in constant fear of deportation without the ability to legally work,” said Biden in a White House speech, explaining why the old system needed a fix.
    Migrants are taken into custody by officials at the US-Mexico border on January 3, 2024, in Eagle Pass, Texas, the United States [Eric Gay/AP Photo]

Who will Biden’s immigration plan benefit?

  • The DHS fact sheet says that around 500,000 non-citizen spouses of US citizens are eligible for the programme.
  • Additionally, around 50,000 children of these spouses are also eligible for this process.

What are Biden’s other recent immigration measures?

  • On Tuesday, Biden announced a separate policy that will help Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, also called “Dreamers”.
  • The DACA programme was introduced in 2012 by the administration of former President Barack Obama, when Biden served as vice president, as temporary deportation relief for children who came to the US as undocumented immigrants with their parents.
  • Under Biden’s recent programme, companies who employ DACA recipients can apply for a work visa for them, which can pave the way for permanent residency.
  • Tuesday’s sweeping measures come two weeks after Biden imposed restrictions on the right to seek asylum at the US-Mexico border, which saw a surge in unauthorised crossings last year. Critics slammed Biden’s asylum restrictions, saying they mirrored the policies of former president Donald Trump, who has pushed for hardline approaches to immigration. Immigrant rights groups have sued Biden over the June 4 border asylum restrictions.
    Donald Trump has been criticised for his hardline anti-immigrant policies [File: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]

How have Republicans reacted to Biden’s immigration programme?

  • Donald Trump, Biden’s challenger: “Biden only cares about one thing – power – and that’s why he is giving mass amnesty and citizenship to hundreds of thousands of illegals who he knows will ultimately vote for him and the Open Border Democrat Party.”
  • Mike Johnson, House speaker: Biden is “trying to play both sides and is granting amnesty to hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens,” Johnson said in an X post. “This is proof-positive of the Democrats’ plan to turn illegal aliens into voters”.
  • Rick Scott, US senator from Florida: “While families struggle to pay the bills, Biden is sending our deficit through the roof to pay for free housing & food for illegal immigrants,” Scott posted on X.

How important is immigration to the 2024 elections?

  • Biden’s recent immigration policies come less than five months before the November 5 election, in which Biden will face Trump.
  • According to Pew Research Center surveys conducted in January 2024, around 57 percent of Americans say dealing with immigration should be a top policy goal for the president and Congress this year.
  • This has increased by 18 points since Biden’s term began due to growing concern among Republicans.
  • A little over half of US voters support deporting all or most undocumented immigrants in the US, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling.
  • On the other hand, a poll published in April 2024 by the advocacy group Immigration Hub concluded that 71 percent of voters in seven election battleground states supported allowing spouses who have lived in the US without documents for over five years to remain.
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