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Joe Biden’s plan for undocumented spouses: What it means for Michigan

President Joe Biden with his hand on his chin. There are American flags in the background
President Joe Biden has recently issued executive actions both clamping down on the southern border and expanding protections for some undocumented immigrants. (Bridge photo by Simon Schuster)
  • Some undocumented spouses of U.S. citizens could have a pathway to legal residency under a new Biden executive action
  • Pro-immigration reform lawmakers in Michigan hailed the plan, which could help tens of thousands of families in the state
  • Republicans blasted the plan as encouraging illegal migration, calling it “awfully convenient” months from the presidential election

LANSING — An executive action announced Tuesday by President Joe Biden will grant new protections to some “mixed-status” families, giving undocumented immigrants already married to U.S. citizens a pathway to legal residency.

For eligibility, an individual must be currently married to a citizen, have continuously resided in the U.S. for the past 10 years and have no disqualifying criminal record.


In a statement, the White House said the plan would help roughly 500,000 undocumented spouses and an estimated 50,000 noncitizen children who are the stepchildren of citizen spouses.

The plan would not automatically grant residency or citizenship to those who qualify. Instead, they would be granted “parole in place” status and provided three years to apply for permanent residency — also known as a green card — without having to leave the country as is currently required. 


Immigration advocates have hailed the new action by the Democratic president as “a small victory,” but former President Donald Trump and some fellow Republicans criticized the move.

The Biden administration is also giving expedited access to work visas for undocumented graduates of U.S. higher education institutions working in a field related to their studies, including those benefiting from the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals program.

What it means for Michigan

The American Business Immigration Coalition, which hosted a Tuesday press conference discussing the new action, estimated about 50,000 people in Michigan — along with their families — could benefit from the change.

That could be high, however. 

As of 2019, Michigan was home to an estimated 91,000 undocumented immigrants, including 15,000 married to a U.S. citizen, according to the Migration Policy Institute. In 2021, The Pew Charitable Trusts estimated 120,000 undocumented immigrants in Michigan but did not specify marital status. 

The new Biden administration program has the potential to slightly boost tax revenue for the state. 

Parole in place status would allow undocumented spouses to apply for driver’s licenses, get auto insurance and apply for work permits. The ability to legally work would ensure undocumented workers are paying taxes on their wages, but also makes them eligible for benefits like Social Security and Medicaid.

As a federal issue, it doesn’t appear Michigan needs to do much to make the policy a reality. Advocates also were unsure how many graduates could benefit from expedited work visas, given the exact details of the programs haven’t yet been published. 

With Congress mired in gridlock on its own immigration reform efforts, the new program is an executive action. Lawmakers in Michigan have faced similar difficulties: House majority floor leader Abraham Aiyash, D-Hamtramck, noted legislation he sponsored that would allow all undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses has repeatedly stalled.

What Michigan officials are saying

During the press call, state House speaker pro tempore Laurie Pohutsky, D-Livonia, called the Biden immigration action “consistent with our values as a country and as a state” and predicted it will have no effect on border security.

“Immigrants who've worked hard and have been a part of the US for decades, deserve to have the chance to fix their status and stay with their communities,” she said. “They shouldn't have to leave their families behind with no guarantee that they will ever come back or wait while their paperwork is processed.”

    Aiyash said undocumented spouses are “American in every single way but on paper” and called the Biden announcement an “incredible first step.”

    But in a social media post, Republican U.S. Rep. Lisa McClain of Bruce Township was highly critical of the new action. 

    “Biden is going to reward those who broke the law by handing them a loophole to citizenship,” McLain said. “Awfully convenient move five months before an election.”

    What Biden and Trump are saying

    Biden announced the new family action two weeks after attempting to clamp down on illegal immigration with a separate policy to effectively shut down the southern border when the system is “overwhelmed,” which sparked criticism — and a lawsuit — from some top immigrant advocates. 

    “President Biden believes that securing the border is essential,” the White House said in a Tuesday statement. “He also believes in expanding lawful pathways and keeping families together, and that immigrants who have been in the United States for decades, paying taxes and contributing to their communities, are part of the social fabric of our country.”


    Trump, who is campaigning against Biden in a quest to return to the White House, blasted the new executive action. He compared it to "mass amnesty" for immigrants who entered the country illegally, though the program does not directly offer amnesty to those that qualify.

    "This is unsustainable and can't be allowed to continue," Trump wrote on his Truth Social website, vowing to shut down the border and "start deporting millions" of people if he wins election this November.

    Aiyash, the Democratic state legislator, acknowledged the election-year reality behind Biden’s action.

    “It’s incredibly important that this is happening at this moment,” he said. “Michigan, Nevada, Arizona, Georgia — it's communities that have folks that would benefit from this policy that will see this direct impact and be motivated to turn out to vote this November.”

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