Biden announced a new policy to protect undocumented spouses of US citizens from deportation

President Joe Biden is taking executive action to protect the undocumented spouses of U.S. citizens — a move that would protect about 500,000 immigrants from deportation.

The White House announced the election-year policy on Tuesday, framing it “New measure to keep families together.” NBC News reported last week that a measure to protect spouses could be announced soon as immigration advocates and Democratic lawmakers and the president court Latino voters in key battleground states.

The new policy would allow noncitizens who have been in the country for at least 10 years and are married to a U.S. citizen and their children to apply for permanent residency without leaving the country.

During a ceremony at the White House, Biden called the steps a “common solution” to a system that is “complicated, dangerous and separating families.”

He emphasized that the order will come into effect this summer and will not benefit people who have recently arrived in the country. Instead, it will help people and their family members who “pay taxes and contribute to our country”.

“This is the biggest thing since DACA,” said one source familiar with the matter, an immigration attorney.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program announced by then-President Barack Obama in 2012 allowed immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children to stay in the country.

Foreshadowing possible battles over policy, the White House has been keen to emphasize that it has been tough on illegal border crossings and has worked to dismantle people-smuggling networks.

“The president believes that securing the border is necessary,” it said in a news release Tuesday outlining the new measure.

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“He believes in expanding legal pathways and keeping families together, and immigrants who have been in America for decades, pay taxes and contribute to their communities, are part of our nation’s social fabric,” the statement said.

Eligible spouses have been in the United States for an average of 23 years, the report added.

The program would ease the path to green cards and U.S. citizenship for some undocumented immigrants.

Sources also say undocumented spouses will be allowed to obtain work permits on a case-by-case basis.

The move includes plans to allow DACA recipients who graduate from higher education and seek work in the same field to quickly obtain work visas.

Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, blasted the executive action.

Speaking at a campaign rally in Wisconsin, Trump said if elected in November, Biden’s new immigration policy would be immediately “torn down.”

The presumptive Republican nominee for president has made immigration and border issues a cornerstone of his campaign.

House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., tore into the administration’s announcement, saying it would “provide amnesty to hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens” and “encourage more illegal immigration and endanger Americans.”

The new plan is expected to be challenged in court.

Noting the potential for lawsuits, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement that “the only course of action that would fully allow these individuals to root out, to begin with, is to enact legislation.” Families need to further their education and continue to contribute to our society without fear of deportation.” But he also acknowledged that getting the bill through Congress is unlikely given Republican opposition to previous immigration changes.

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