© 2024 Milwaukee Public Media is a service of UW-Milwaukee's College of Letters & Science
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Are Biden's immigration moves at odds? Homeland Security chief says they can coexist

US President Joe Biden walks along the US-Mexico border fence in El Paso, Texas, on January 8, 2023.
Jim Watson
AFP via Getty Images
US President Joe Biden walks along the US-Mexico border fence in El Paso, Texas, on January 8, 2023.

President Biden has drawn anger and praise from immigration advocates in recent days.

This week, Biden used his executive power to protect undocumented spouses of U.S. citizens from deportation and opened an easier path to legal status for them.

Yet, some advocates who cheered the latest move are currently suing the White House because of actions it took two weeks ago to severely restrict asylum access at the border for people who have traveled thousands of miles to plead their cases.

Biden’s chief immigration official, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, told NPR’s Leila Fadel that these two very different approaches can work together.

Mayorkas said this week's move “is about family unity and to provide [families] the stability that their contribution to this country so richly deserve," and added that it and the asylum restrictions recently put into effect, "can coexist and are not in tension with one another.”

The plan announced this week would grant work permits and “parole in place” to eligible undocumented people who are married to U.S. citizens and who have lived in the country for at least 10 years. It would also allow them a three-year window to apply for legal permanent status through their existing marriages. The plan also extends paths of legal status to undocumented minors and stepchildren of U.S. citizens.

“I think it's very important to understand that this is the president's approach from day one,” Mayorkas said. “The fact that we can take measures to secure our border, which is a national imperative, one that every country follows. And at the same time, take actions domestically here in the United States to make our system more fair and more just for those who have resided here for many years who are part of families.”

The following excerpt has been lightly edited for clarity.

Leila Fadel: Now, this would apply to about half a million people in the country, but since it was announced, it has been met with very loud criticism from Republicans saying this new plan is just blanket amnesty. Is it?

Alejandro Mayorkas: It is not. It actually changes a process for individuals who could qualify to become lawful permanent residents before yesterday's action. What this does is it changes the process.

Previously, undocumented spouses of United States citizens would have to leave the country in order to apply to become lawful permanent residents. Now, in an effort to keep families together, a core value of our country, we have made that process available so that they don't have to leave the country; they can stay with their U.S. citizen spouse.

Fadel: Now, you say this was the approach from day one, but this is a very polarizing and important topic to American voters. Why take these executive actions now at this high point in the election season?

Alejandro Mayorkas: This is not the first action that the president has taken to make our system more fair and just. Unfortunately and repeatedly, Congress has failed to take the action that is incumbent upon it to take because only Congress can legislate, provide the resources that we need, and fix what everyone agrees is a broken immigration system.

As a matter of fact, on day one of the administration, he presented Congress with a comprehensive legislative proposal to fix our broken immigration system. He has taken actions throughout the past three plus years. We have sought congressional action, never received it.

Fadel: Now, this new action this week was praised by immigrant advocates, but the Biden administration is being sued right now by the ACLU and others who will argue that with the administration violating federal law, with the action taken two weeks ago, specifically the 1980 Refugee Act. Basically, they're calling it an effective ban on asylum for people who don't show up at designated ports of entry. Is the administration breaking the law?

Mayorkas: No. No, it is not. We have confidence in the lawfulness of the actions that we take, including the action we took two weeks ago to strengthen the security of our border. And we have to keep in mind, in reviewing that action that we have provided, this administration has provided more lawful pathways for individuals to seek asylum in the United States than any prior administration.

The digital version of this story was edited by Obed Manuel.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Destinee Adams
Destinee Adams (she/her) is a temporary news assistant for Morning Edition and Up First. In May 2022, a month before joining Morning Edition, she earned a bachelor's degree in Multimedia Journalism at Oklahoma State University. During her undergraduate career, she interned at the Stillwater News Press (Okla.) and participated in NPR's Next Generation Radio. In 2020, she wrote about George Floyd's impact on Black Americans, and in the following years she covered transgender identity and unpopular Black history in the South. Adams was born and raised in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.