Tue | Jul 23, 2024

Immigrant families rejoice over Biden’s expansive move toward citizenship, while some are left out

Published:Wednesday | June 19, 2024 | 2:53 PM
Antonio Valle, from right, two sons, Gohan and Seiya, and wife, Brenda, stand for a photo after an interview with The Associated Press in Los Angeles, Tuesday, June 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

HOUSTON (AP) — Hundreds of thousands of immigrants had reason to rejoice when President Joe Biden unveiled a highly expansive plan to extend legal status to spouses of United States citizens but, inevitably, some were left out.

Claudia Zúniga, 35, married in 2017, or 10 years after her husband came to the United States. He moved to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, after they wed, knowing that, by law, he had to live outside the country for years to gain legal status. “Our lives took a 180-degree turn,” she said.

Biden announced Tuesday that his administration will, in coming months, allow US citizens' spouses without legal status to apply for permanent residency and eventually citizenship without having to first depart the country for up to 10 years. About 500,000 immigrants may benefit, according to senior administration officials.

To qualify, an immigrant must have lived in the United States for 10 years and be married to a US citizen, both as of Monday. Zúniga's husband is ineligible because he wasn't in the United States.

“Imagine, it would be a dream come true,” said Zúniga, who works part time in her father's transportation business in Houston. “My husband could be with us. We could focus on the well-being of our children.”

Every immigration benefit — even those as sweeping as Biden's election-year offer — has a cutoff date and other eligibility requirements. In September, the Democratic president expanded temporary status for nearly 500,000 Venezuelans who were living in the United States on July 31, 2023. Those who had arrived a day later were out of luck.

The Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programme, which has shielded from deportation hundreds of thousands of people who came to the United States as young children and is popularly known as DACA, required applicants be in the United States on June 15, 2012, and continuously for the previous five years.

About 1.1 million spouses who are in the country illegally are married to US citizens, according to advocacy group FWD.us., meaning hundreds of thousands won't qualify because they were in the United States for less than 10 years.

Immigration advocates were generally thrilled with the scope of Tuesday's announcement, just as Biden's critics called it a horribly misguided giveaway.

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