Biden to give legal status to some undocumented spouses of US citizens

President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced plans to offer relief to hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. heading into the 2024 election, a move that experts say aims to balance his own aggressive crackdown on the border earlier this month. 

The Biden administration will allow certain spouses of U.S. citizens without legal status to apply for permanent residency and, eventually, citizenship in the coming months, the White House said. 

Senior administration officials said the move could impact upwards of half a million immigrants.

FILE - U.S. President Joe Biden joins G7 leaders as they gather to watch a parachute drop at San Domenico Golf Club during day one of the 50th G7 summit on June 13, 2024, in Fasano, Italy. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

FILE - U.S. President Joe Biden joins G7 leaders as they gather to watch a parachute drop at San Domenico Golf Club during day one of the 50th G7 summit on June 13, 2024, in Fasano, Italy. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Biden is set to speak about the plans at a Tuesday afternoon event at the White House, which will also mark the 12th anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or "DACA." The popular Obama-era directive offered deportation protections and temporary work permits for young immigrants who lack legal status.

Here’s what to know about Biden’s expansive new plan:

Biden’s new plan: Who qualifies – and who does not

An immigrant must have lived in the United States for 10 years as of Monday and be married to a U.S. citizen to qualify, officials said.  

If a qualifying immigrant’s application is approved, he or she would have three years to apply for a green card and receive a temporary work permit, as well as be shielded from deportation in the meantime.

About 50,000 non-citizen children with a parent who is married to a U.S. citizen could also potentially qualify for the same process, according to senior administration officials who briefed reporters on the proposal on condition of anonymity. 

There is no requirement on how long the couple must have been married, and no one becomes eligible after Monday. That means immigrants who reach that 10 year mark any time after June 17, 2024, will not qualify for the program, according to the officials.

On the 12th anniversary of DACA, Biden will also announce new regulations that will allow certain DACA beneficiaries and other young immigrants to more easily qualify for long-established work visas. 

That would allow qualifying immigrants to have protection that is sturdier than the work permits offered by DACA, which is currently facing legal challenges and is no longer taking new applications.

When will applications open?

Biden senior administration officials said they anticipate the process will be open for applications by the end of the summer, and fees to apply have yet to be determined.

Such immigration policies have been used before

The power that Biden is invoking with his Tuesday announcement for spouses is not a novel one. 

The policy would expand on authority used by presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama to allow "parole in place" for family members of military members, said Andrea Flores, a former policy adviser in the Obama and Biden administrations who is now a vice president at, an immigration advocacy organization.

The parole-in-place process allows qualifying immigrants to get on the path to U.S. permanent residency without leaving the country, removing a common barrier for those without legal status but married to Americans. 

Flores said it "fulfills President Biden’s day one promise to protect undocumented immigrants and their American families."

Biden’s previous executive order on border security

The announcement on Tuesday comes after Biden unveiled a sweeping crackdown at the U.S.-Mexico border earlier this month, which effectively halted asylum claims for those arriving between officially designated ports of entry. 

Details of his executive order include shutting down asylum processing along the border if illegal crossings average 2,500 per day – which was higher than the daily averages as of late. The restrictions go into effect until two weeks after the daily encounter numbers are at or below 1,500 per day between ports of entry, under a seven-day average. 

Once the order is in effect, migrants who arrive at the border but do not express fear of returning to their home countries will be subject to immediate removal from the United States, within a matter of days or even hours. 

Those migrants would face punishments that could include a five-year bar from reentering the U.S., as well as potential criminal prosecution.

Meanwhile, anyone who expresses that fear or intention to seek asylum will be screened by a U.S. asylum officer but at a higher standard than what is currently used. If they pass the screening, they can pursue more limited forms of humanitarian protection, including the U.N. Convention Against Torture.

Immigrant-rights groups have sued the Biden administration over the directive.

The prospect of Biden taking executive action on border policy had been speculated about for months, particularly after a bipartisan deal collapsed in Congress in February

Arrests for illegal crossings hit record highs in December but fell by nearly half in early 2024 to one of the lowest months under Biden’s presidency. 

Immigration is one of the biggest issues in this year’s presidential election, with exit polls showing it was the top concern among many Republican voters in early primaries.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.