Biden policy is welcome relief for Americans with spouses in the country illegally

Biden has walked a political tightrope in recent months - toughening his stance on border enforcement while trying not to alienate liberal voters and Latinos.
Last Updated : 19 June 2024, 10:48 IST

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Washington: When news broke of US President Joe Biden’s plan to provide a path to citizenship for certain immigrants who entered the country illegally and are married to US citizens, Pennsylvania-based immigration lawyer Bridget Cambria didn’t need long to think of clients it could help.

Over the years, she had met with many such couples, explaining to them how difficult it was going to be for the immigrant spouse to get US legal permanent residency. The process, in most cases, required the immigrant to leave the country, potentially enduring years of family separation before being eligible to return.

"When I called them, it was nice to tell them something happy for once,” Cambria said. "Some of them cried, most of them were just in disbelief or shock."

Biden’s move on Tuesday that would allow hundreds of thousands of spouses of US citizens to legalize their immigration status without leaving the United States is a huge development for the families involved, but it is also a high-stakes political gambit in an election year.

Biden, a Democrat seeking another term in November, has struggled with high levels of illegal immigration at the US-Mexico border. His Republican challenger, hardliner Donald Trump, has pushed a message that immigrants are committing more violent crimes than US citizens, despite statistics to the contrary, and "poisoning the blood" of the country.

Biden has walked a political tightrope in recent months - toughening his stance on border enforcement while trying not to alienate liberal voters and Latinos. The Democrat beat Trump in 2020 when Biden pledged a more humane approach to immigration, a sharp contrast to Trump's four years in office.

When it comes to immigration policy, registered voters prefer Trump over Biden by a 17 percentage point margin, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted in mid-May.

One of the couples Cambria, the Pennsylvania immigration lawyer, called was Carmen Miranda, 56, and her husband Francisco Cortez, 52, of Reading, Pennsylvania.

Miranda met Cortez, who is Mexican, through a friend when she was in her early 20s. He had entered the country illegally in 1987, and she was a single mother of two young children. They dated for several years before getting married in 2003.

Miranda, who has multiple sclerosis and dwarfism and depends on Cortez to support her, said she was excited when Cambria called her with the news.

“We waited and waited for so, so long,” Miranda said. “I apologize if I start crying.”

Miranda said she could not have managed without Cortez if he had left the country to apply for legal status and entered a years-long limbo. “I need him here,” she said.

Genaro Vicencio, 24, who crossed the border from Mexico when he was 10 years old, met his American wife Cindy Maduena when they were both teenagers. They have a 6-year-old son.

Vicencio, who lives in Temple, Pennsylvania, said he has constantly feared that he would have to leave the U.S. for a long time and his young son would grow up without a father. He is still trying to comprehend the magnitude of the announcement for his family, he said.

“It’s that I don't have to worry, 'Is my son going to have a dad? Is my family going to be stable?',” he said. “Every morning I had to wake up and think about that. This is a huge stress reliever.”

Vicencio is hoping that obtaining legal status will enable him to expand his painting and electrician businesses and access business loans, he said.

But most of all, he said, he is happy to begin to build a stable future in the United States.

“I know some people in this country might be like, ‘Oh, it's not a great country.’ This is a beautiful country. I love it.”

Published 19 June 2024, 10:48 IST

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