Posted on April 24, 2024

Biden Weighs Giving Legal Status to Immigrant Spouses of U.S. Citizens

Michelle Hackman, Wall Street Journal, April 22, 2024

Twenty years ago, Allyson Batista consulted her priest with a dilemma. She had fallen in love with a man living in the country illegally, who had no hope of fixing his status.

“I think if you love somebody, you marry them, and you figure it out from there,” she recalls the priest telling her.

So she did. Two decades later, the couple has three children and a successful construction business in Philadelphia. But they still lack certainty—about whether Allyson’s husband will be allowed to stay in the U.S. long enough to see his children become adults, or if the government will ever do something to help.

Now, families such as Batista’s are looking to the Biden administration, where officials have been seriously discussing a plan to help hundreds of thousands of immigrants living in the country illegally who are married to U.S. citizens.

The idea has gained currency inside the White House since last summer, despite the fraught nature of immigration politics heading into the 2024 presidential election. There is a growing recognition among Biden’s top political advisers that the president could benefit from taking a positive step on immigration to contrast with his tough talk on the issue, and with an expected executive order aiming to sharply curb illegal crossings at the southern border.

Officials inside the White House and at the Department of Homeland Security have been studying a range of proposals to provide work permits or deportation relief for millions of undocumented immigrants who have lived and worked in the U.S. for a long time. They have zeroed in on the population of mixed-status families, where typically the children and one parent are U.S. citizens, because they believe that demographic is the most compelling, according to administration officials and advocates who have spoken with them.

There are an estimated 1.1 million undocumented immigrants married to U.S. citizens, according to, an immigration advocacy group. Though immigrants can typically qualify for green cards when they marry American citizens, these spouses are barred under immigration law for any number of reasons, most commonly if they entered the country illegally more than once or used forged legal documentation. Some of these infractions, advocates say, happen when immigrants are young children but can still result in lifelong bans.


Though the announcement of a program isn’t imminent, officials say, the White House has discussed timing it before the election as a sort of one-two punch following an executive order that would likely upset immigration advocates.


The most popular idea inside the administration is to use an immigration tool known as “parole in place,” similar to the humanitarian parole the administration has used to admit hundreds of thousands of Afghan and Ukrainian refugees, along with migrants at the border who make appointments using a mobile app called CBP One.

Officials favor parole in place because a smaller version of the program already exists for undocumented spouses of military veterans.

Granting undocumented spouses parole in place would make many of them immediately eligible for work permits. Perhaps more significantly, it would clear the administrative cobwebs preventing spouses from being granted green cards, meaning the move could ultimately offer them a path to citizenship.


Any program would come with a cutoff, so that only spouses who have been married to citizens for at least five or 10 years could qualify. Advocates estimate that of the 1.1 million spouses in the country, fewer than 700,000 would qualify.