Biden announces immigration relief for undocumented spouses of US citizens

One immigrant set to benefit from the program told Scripps News the policy would “change my life.”
Posted at 5:03 AM, Jun 18, 2024

Foday Turay was just 6 years old when he was first brought to the U.S. Born in Sierra Leone amid the country’s brutal civil war, his mother had fled to the States as a refugee when he was a baby. Though the younger Turay was able to join her years later, he didn’t learn until he was 16 that he was undocumented.

“It was shattering to me,” Turay told Scripps News. “Could you imagine being 16? You want to go get a driver's license. Your friends are traveling, going on vacations, and your parents tell you, ‘Oh hey, I'm sorry but you're undocumented.’”

Turay remembers hearing about President Barack Obama’s announcement of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, better known as DACA, and initially being too scared to apply. But after presenting immigration officials with all the documentation he had at the time — his Sierra Leone passport, his Hyattsville Elementary School transcript and his mandated fingerprint background check — he was accepted into the program, granting him deferred action from deportation and employment authorization.

“I got on my knees and cried,” Turay said. “I was so happy to finally have an identity in the only country that I have come to love.”

Several decades later, Turay indeed has come a long way. He graduated from high school, college and law school, all on scholarship, and now works as an assistant district attorney in Philadelphia. With his wife, he owns a house, and he has fathered a son.

Yet reflecting on Saturday’s 12th anniversary of the DACA program, Turay expressed mixed emotions. As politicians have played political football with the program, Turay’s whole life has hung in the balance. When former President Donald Trump was elected promising to do away with DACA protections altogether, Turay recalled waking up every morning searching Twitter to ensure he still had authorization to be here.

But all of that started to change on Tuesday.

Biden announces new immigration relief

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden announced a series of new policies intended to “bring peace of mind and stability” to people like Turay, those living in a so-called “mixed-status” household.

Whereas marrying a U.S. citizen traditionally opens up quick and easy pathways to citizenship for would-be immigrants, those who have crossed into the U.S. illegally are subject to additional hurdles that require them to return to their home countries and wait for processing, something that can take years.

To address that, President Biden will take executive action to clear the way for the hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who are married to U.S. citizens to apply for lawful permanent residence. The program, dubbed by advocates "parole in place," will also allow those individuals' children, the stepchildren of U.S. citizens married to noncitizens, to gain the same legal protections.

“Parole in place will change my life,” Turay said. Without papers, he’s unable to pursue his dream of working as an assistant U.S. attorney or serving in the military’s Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps. Should he be accepted into the program, he said, he’d have the chance at a normal life, the American dream.

According to figures from the White House, roughly 500,000 Americans like Turay stand to benefit from the program, along with an additional 50,000 youth under age 21. To qualify, individuals must have lived in the U.S. for at least 10 years as of June 17, have a legally recognized marriage as of that date and clear screenings for public safety and national security. Separately, the Departments of Homeland Security and State will institute new rules making it easier for undocumented noncitizens who have graduated from U.S. colleges and have employment offers to receive work visas, intended to “give U.S. employers increased confidence that they can hire the talent they need,” DHS said in a statement.

In remarks on Tuesday, President Biden put his new immigration policies in the context of the social and economic benefits they would provide for individuals and for the nation.

"We're a much better and stronger nation because of dreamers," President Biden said. "Today I'm announcing new measures to clarify and speed up work visas, to help people including Dreamers who have graduated from U.S. colleges and universities, land jobs in high-demand high-skill professions, that we need to see our economy grow. It's the right thing to do."

"I want those who have been educated at U.S. colleges and universities to put their skills and knowledge to work here in America," President Biden said. "I want to keep building the strongest economy in the world, with the best workforce in the world."

The reaction to President Biden’s announcements from the immigrants’ rights community, a group that had recently projected ire toward President Biden’s actions cracking down on asylum at the border — was swift.

“This is a tremendous step forward from President Biden, and a much-needed fulfillment of the promise to keep families together,” President Todd Schulte said in a statement.

Impact announcement has on 2024 campaign

In a statement to Scripps News, Biden-Harris 2024 campaign manager Julie Chávez Rodriguez sought to contrast the president’s approach to migration issues to his opponent’s, suggesting that President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris “will never stop fighting” for DACA recipients, while Trump is “doubling down on authoritarianism.”

Trump, for his part, declined to answer Scripps News' questions about his thoughts on the DACA program, including whether he’d move to dismantle it or halt new applicants, as he attempted during his first term in office.

Asked about the program, a Trump campaign spokesperson pointed Scripps News to a Truth Social post from the former president decrying an undocumented immigrant’s alleged murder, and lashing out at President Biden’s so-called “MASS AMNESTY” program. She did not respond to follow-ups about DACA specifically.

White House officials, meanwhile, stressed that only those who pass comprehensive background and security checks will be eligible to benefit from the new protections.

Administration officials said more details about the process for would-be applicants would be shared in the coming weeks, with the hopes that applications would open by the end of the summer.

Turay, for his part, is looking forward to the prospect of further cementing his status as an American.

“I want this country to progress,” Turay said. “I want this country to be the top in the world. Why? Because my son is from here. My generations are going to be from here, not from Sierra Leone. I don't have any generational ties anymore. My generational ties [are] here now.”