President Biden announced an executive order on June 18 to keep immigrant families together, affecting Dreamers, spouses of citizens, and children. | Credit: Courtesy

President Joe Biden made a second immigration executive order in as many weeks today, this one to keep families together. “Today, I’m announcing new measures to clarify and speed up work visas, to help people, including Dreamers, who’ve graduated from U.S. colleges and universities and landed jobs in high-demand, high-skill professions that we need to see our economy grow,” Biden said at a crowded White House ceremony on Tuesday, energetic but brief as he simultaneously outlined the program and blasted his opponent in this November’s election.

Two weeks ago, Biden had limited border entry for asylum seekers when overcrowded conditions developed, as they have for many months. The action split Latino legislators as many criticized the border order as solely punitive, while a handful supported it as a much-needed containment of the chaos at the border. Among the latter was Congressmember Salud Carbajal, who is vice chair of the Immigration and Border Security Task Force for the New Democrat Coalition, which worked with the Biden administration on the border order.

This Tuesday’s much more popular executive order came a few days after the 12th anniversary of DACA, or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals order signed by President Obama, Biden’s former boss. As children, Dreamers had emigrated to the U.S. but aged out of the protection of their parent’s status. Obama’s order allowed young adults — also called Dreamers after the Development, Relief, and Education for Minors (DREAM) Act first proposed in 2001 — to get a work permit for two years at a time in order to defer deportation. While 800,000 individuals benefited from the program, DACA hit legal limbo in 2021 after court battles to rescind or to restore green cards for Dreamers — now in an appeals court — ended any new deferments.

The executive order of June 18 allows DACA recipients and other Dreamers who earned a college degree and have an employment offer in their degree to more quickly receive work visas. It also offers new protections for undocumented spouses of U.S. citizens from deportation and for their non-citizen children. Biden called it a “common-sense fix” that would enable husbands and wives married to American citizens to come out of the shadows, file for legal status in the U.S., and remain with their families.

The new rule would go into effect later this summer, Biden said, and was overwhelmingly supported by the American people and by business — “no matter what the other team says.” Previously, spouses and children could apply for permanent residence after first leaving the country, a requirement that sometimes found people stuck in their country of origin with no legal way back to their families in the U.S. To qualify, spouses must have lived in the U.S. for a decade as of June 17, 2024, and be legally wed, which allows their children under the age of 21 to qualify. The White House estimated this will affect a half-million spouses and as many as 50,000 children.

Carbajal called the updated rules a demonstration of Biden’s commitment to “fixing our broken immigration system” and keeping families together. “Despite years and decades of contributions to our country and economy, thousands of American families still live under threat of forced separation because of our outdated immigration system,” he said in a press statement. The updated rules would allow “undocumented immigrants with long histories and deep ties in our communities to remain here as they apply to change their legal status, rather than risk prolonged legal limbo or deportation.”

Praise also came from Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Nanette Barragán (D-CA44): “Today is a happy day for many immigrant families across America.” Last week, however, along with U.S. Senator Alex Padilla and the California Latino Legislative Caucus, Barragán had criticized the border order, saying the enforcement would be ineffective and cause further chaos unless it also contained safe and humane methods to keep families together, protect spouses, and fund border processes. With the exception of funding, today’s order does just that.

In particular, Biden’s executive order suspends asylum claims between ports of entry when more than 2,500 crossings occur per day for a seven-day period. Last December, crossings were reportedly nearing 10,000 per day, though Biden asserted encounters had dropped 25 percent since his order on June 4. When crossings fall below 1,500 for seven days, the border will reopen two weeks later. Exceptions take into account unaccompanied children, some trafficking victims, and migrants with acute medical issues or threats to their safety.

When he announced the border order, President Biden cited “Republican obstruction” as propelling his action. “Frankly, I would have preferred to address this issue through bipartisan legislation, but Republicans left me with no choice,” Biden said. In this, he was referring to border security legislation brought by Senator James Lankford (R-OK) in February that gained bipartisan support until presidential candidate Donald Trump made his opposition clear.

“Republicans walked away from the deal for the most pathetic and petty of reasons,” Biden said today. “Trump got on the phone, literally, and said, ‘Don’t do this.’ It would hurt him politically and help me instead. So much for Republicans caring about the border.”

The Trump administration similarly attempted an executive order on immigration in 2017, which was halted by the Supreme Court. It differed from Biden’s order as it targeted migrants from Muslim countries and had no exceptions for children or trafficking victims.

The New Democrat Coalition has also called on Congress to act because only Congress can provide the funds needed for the maxed-out asylum process, such as attorneys, judges, and courts, and for the border regions facing the hot summer months.

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