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Some undocumented immigrants married to U.S. citizens may be guarded from deportation


President Joe Biden has issued executive actions that would provide a legal pathway to some undocumented immigrants who are married to U.S. citizens. The order could alter the lives of thousands of people. Joining us now is pairs Jasmine Garsd. Hi, Jasmine.


PFEIFFER: I think I'm correct in saying that many people assume or believe that if you marry an American citizen, you automatically have citizenship yourself. That - is that not the case?

GARSD: Yes, so this is a common misconception. Actually, what often happens is if an undocumented person marries an American, in order to apply for that green card, they have to leave the country and ask for a pardon, and they can be separated from their family for years.

PFEIFFER: So how do today's executive actions affect that?

GARSD: This is not a blanket amnesty for all undocumented immigrants. It applies to those who have been in the U.S. for 10 years and already are married to a U.S. citizen. And they'll be given three years to apply for permanent residency, and it also extends to undocumented underage stepchildren of American citizens.

PFEIFFER: Do you have a sense of how widespread the impact of this could be in terms of numbers of people?

GARSD: Yeah. The White House estimates that about over half a million undocumented immigrants will be eligible. I've been speaking to families who say for them, the emotional and financial impact will be life changing, in part because people who are eligible will qualify for work authorization. I spoke to Rebecca Shi from the American Business Immigration Coalition, who told me...

REBECCA SHI: We have a very tight labor market, and for years, employers have been saying, Hey, we need to have a path to legal status for people that have been working, paying taxes, sweating for our country.

GARSD: And this is a point the White House has also been making - that this will have economic benefits.

PFEIFFER: This is obviously a very freighted political time involving immigration. So what kind of pushback might we see to this?

GARSD: As with every executive rule recently, we can expect to see challenges from states that have already been butting heads with the Biden administration over immigration. There's also the possibility of a future president undoing this. Denise Gilman, who is the co-director of the Immigration Clinic at the University of Texas Law School, says...

DENISE GILMAN: I expect that we will see a huge rush of applications. I expect that lawyers will be working very hard to get in applications for those folks as quickly as possible on the understanding that this might not be a permanent program.

GARSD: The application process starts at the end of this summer.

PFEIFFER: Jasmine, the timing of this order is noteworthy. It comes months, of course, before a presidential election in which the top concerns include immigration and the border. What is the Biden administration saying about that timing, if anything?

GARSD: Well, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll, 59% of voters say that undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. should be allowed to stay legally. It's interesting that this executive action was issued at the heels of another one 2 weeks ago which very significantly limits access to asylum for undocumented immigrants at the border.

PFEIFFER: Right. That is NPR's Jasmine Garsd. Thank you.

GARSD: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jasmine Garsd is an Argentine-American journalist living in New York. She is currently NPR's Criminal Justice correspondent and the host of The Last Cup. She started her career as the co-host of Alt.Latino, an NPR show about Latin music. Throughout her reporting career she's focused extensively on women's issues and immigrant communities in America. She's currently writing a book of stories about women she's met throughout her travels.