‘California wins big’ with Biden’s new immigration policy shielding undocumented spouses

California’s undocumented population stands to benefit significantly from the White House’s immigration policy announced Tuesday to extend sweeping protections to undocumented residents who have lived in the country for years and are married to U.S. citizens.

Roughly 12%, or 315,000, of California’s undocumented residents are married to U.S. citizens, according to Migration Policy Institute. It is still unclear how many of those people are eligible for the new policy, but the state is home to the largest number of undocumented individuals in the nation.

“California wins big with this executive order,” said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Los Angeles-based organization Coalition For Humane Immigrant Rights.

To be eligible for the White House’s new program, undocumented spouses must have been in the country for at least 10 years, be married to a citizen as of June 17, 2024, and not have a criminal record. The rule also applies to their children under the age of 21 who are stepchildren of U.S. citizens.

The policy, called “Parole in Place,” will allow eligible individuals to apply for work permits and deportation protections.

The new rule could protect more than half a million spouses and children in the U.S. from deportation, according to White House estimates. The policy will allow individuals to remain in the U.S. while they apply for lawful permanent residency, known as a green card, and unlocks a pathway for U.S. citizenship. White House officials told The Bee that they did not have state-by-state estimates.

The executive action is expected to face legal challenges, which could prevent it from being implemented anytime soon.

Why the rule greatly affects California

Ariel Ruiz Soto, a senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research group, said studies have long proven that policies such as Biden’s help the state’s economy because people unable to work legally previously could do so now. Their earnings could mean they pay more taxes.

Ruiz Soto said many spouses that the Biden administration pegs as eligible are likely to be in California because of cultural ties, historical and past immigration patterns in the Golden State.

Ruiz Soto added that Biden’s action starts a race against the clock for immigrants and their families because executive actions can be undone by the next president.

That could be former President Donald Trump who already indicated he opposed the rule. That would give those applying for change of status a window of just a few months, likely from August — with the implementation time needed — to January if the policy is not blocked by a court.

“Biden is preparing to give MASS AMNESTY to hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens!” Trump, the presumed GOP presidential nominee, posted Monday on his social media platform, Truth Social. This is unsustainable and can’t be allowed to continue! On day one, we will SHUT DOWN THE BORDER and start deporting millions of Biden’s Illegal Criminals.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom offered strong support.

“Today’s executive action is important for keeping families together, unlocking opportunities to retain immigrant talent, and supporting the economy,” he said.

What Biden announced

President Joe Biden discussed the executive action on Tuesday at an event marking the 12th anniversary of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — the Obama-era program that protects individuals who came to the U.S. as children, known as Dreamers, from deportation. DACA is currently facing legal challenges and is no longer taking new applications.

The White House also announced plans to help DACA recipients and other Dreamers who graduated from U.S. schools of higher education and have job offers in fields that match their degrees to more quickly get work visas.

“There will be tears of joy paired with sighs of relief as the significance of these executive actions by President Biden sets in for these families,” Rep. Nanette Barragán, D-Los Angeles, head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said in a statement.

Barragán called Biden’s action “the most significant protections for immigrant families” since DACA was announced by President Barack Obama in 2012.

Marrying a U.S. citizen normally opens up a pathway to permanent residency. But people who enter the U.S. illegally, without a visa, must return to their home countries to get a green card. That process can take up to 10 years, and is often the main hurdle for families, Salas said.

Senior administration officials told reporters that eligible people have lived in the U.S. for 23 years on average.

The program announced Tuesday allows immigrant spouses to remain in the U.S. while applying for lawful permanent residence. People who are approved for the program by the Department of Homeland Security have three years to apply for permanent residency and are eligible for work authorization during that time.

White House officials told reporters that the program would open for applicants later this summer, though legal challenges could thwart the administration’s plans.

Immigration in an election year

Biden’s election-year move comes just two weeks after the White House announced it was temporarily closing the southern border to asylum seekers who crossed illegally. Advocates are suing over that rule, which allows the U.S. to close the U.S.-Mexico border when immigration surges.

Salas said Tuesday’s decision “cannot be seen in a vacuum,” and advocacy organizations will continue to speak out against the recent asylum order and push for permanent immigration solutions.

“It’s a good day for those families, even as we know that we have millions and millions of people who still need a solution,” she said.

Immigration, a polarized issue that has become a focal point of the 2024 election, has long been used as a political talking point. Still, Congress hasn’t passed comprehensive immigration reform in decades. The Senate passed a bipartisan measure in 2013 but it went nowhere in the House of Representatives.

Republicans lambasted Biden’s announcement on Tuesday and accused him of taking actions to bolster his election odds.

McClatchyDC’s Michael Wilner contributed to this story.