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An Im/migrant Well-Being Analysis of President Biden’s Executive Actions to ‘Keep Families Together’

By: Thomas J. Rachko, Jr.

On June 18, 2024, President Biden announced new executive actions “to keep families together.” The executive actions intend to promote family and economic stability by: one, creating a new parole in place process for noncitizen spouses of U.S. citizens and children under 21 whose parent is married to a U.S. citizen; and two, expediting the work visa process for certain undocumented individuals. According to the White House, these actions are estimated to impact over a half a million people and are intended to provide some “peace of mind” to those eligible.  


While these latest actions have been heralded by immigration advocates as a step forward, they are balanced against a Presidential proclamation earlier this month that imposed restrictions on asylum with potential harm and risks to migrants’ well-being. Nonetheless, policies that keep families together represent an evidence-informed solution, given the dearth of research demonstrating the negative impacts of family separation on well-being. The sections below address key questions associated with the Biden administration’s latest executive actions and their potential impacts on im/migrant well-being.  


What does the new announcement by the Biden administration do?  


According to a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) fact sheet: “This announcement utilizes existing authorities to promote family unity, but only Congress can fix our broken immigration system.” The rationale behind the policy move is that applying for Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) status can create uncertainty for families.  


As the DHS explains, “[T]o apply for lawful permanent residence, many noncitizens must first depart the United States and wait to be processed abroad, resulting in a prolonged, potentially indefinite, period of separation from their U.S. citizen family members and causing tremendous hardship to all concerned. Consequently, these families live in fear and face deep uncertainty about their future.” 


As a policy solution, the announcement by the Biden administration creates a “new parole process allowing noncitizen people who have lived in the U.S. for 10 years or more married to U.S. spouses or children under 21 whose parent is married to a U.S. citizen to apply for parole in place and if eligible, apply for lawful permanent residence.” Requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis and those who apply must meet certain criteria: they must have lived in the U.S. for ten years or more, not pose a public safety threat, and  be otherwise eligible to apply for an adjustment of status.   


Similarly, a White House fact sheet  broke down the announcement into two main categories: “Keeping American Families Together” and “Easing the Visa Process for U.S. College Graduates, Including Dreamers.” From the perspective of well-being, the White House emphasized  how these actions will bring “peace of mind” and “stability” to people living in mixed-status families. In addition to keeping families together, the actions also expedite the work visa process for DACA recipients and other undocumented individuals: “[the] announcement will allow individuals, including DACA recipients and other Dreamers, who have earned a degree at an accredited U.S. institution of higher education in the United States, and who have received an offer of employment from a U.S. employer in a field related to their degree, to more quickly receive work visas.” Therefore, these actions may have significant economic impacts on well-being by smoothing the process of obtaining work visas.  


Who is eligible? Who will be impacted? 


The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and White House estimates that some 550,000 people will be impacted. This includes 500,000 spouses of U.S. citizens and 50,000 noncitizen children under the age of 21 whose parent is married to a U.S. citizen. 


In the announcements and fact sheets detailing the executive actions, the Biden administration also pointed to the potential impacts for DACA recipients. As of September 30, 2023, more than 500,000 individuals make up the current DACA population, according to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)


What is the legal basis? What are the policy implications? 


Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security is able to grant parole status for urgent humanitarian reasons or reasons pertaining to public interest. The Parole in Place (PIP) program allows certain undocumented family members of U.S. citizens and U.S. military personnel, veterans, and enlistees to stay in the U.S. legally. It provides temporary legal status, work authorization, and protection from deportation.  


Similar to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, immigration parole is not an immigration status nor does it mean that a person has been officially admitted into the U.S.. As President Biden shared at a press conference announcement, this “does not require any fundamental change in U.S. immigration law.” Parole in Place has historically been used for noncitizen immediate family and spouses of U.S. military personnel as explained in this U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services brochure “Immigration Options for Family of Certain Military Members and Veterans.” 


Why does this matter? 


“Over 70 percent of Americans support efforts to keep families together,” said President Biden in his announcement . He noted that it is an American principle to keep families together – family unity is enshrined in international human rights law and US immigration laws. Biden’s announcement comes two weeks after he unveiled a sweeping crackdown at the U.S.-Mexico border that effectively halted asylum claims for those arriving between officially designated ports of entry. Immigrant-rights groups have sued the Biden administration over that directive


What does the research on im/migrant well-being tell us about Biden’s new announcement on affirmative relief? What are the contributions of undocumented immigrants toward the well-being of the U.S.? 


As the Biden administration shared in their DHS factsheet: “This announcement utilizes existing authorities to promote family unity, but only Congress can fix our broken immigration system.”  It is a step forward to promote family unity, togetherness, and community safety, and it comes after over a decade of Congressional inaction on DACA that has had severe consequences for families and communities across the U.S.  


A peer-reviewed article, Undocumented Again? DACA Rescission, Emotions, and Incorporation Outcomes among Young Adults, found that 9 out of 51 people interviewed had attempted suicide, and almost half had engaged in self-harm. As DACA is continually used as a political wedge without any Congressional resolution, Dreamers suffer sociological, mental, and emotional damage, despite the benefits DACA provides. The wait for permanent relief is not neutral. Feelings of stability and predictability for the future are important factors of mental and emotional health that are eroded for DACA recipients and their families. DACA’s instability has undermined its economic benefits for many. While DACA opened doors for educational and work opportunities, the increasing uncertainty around DACA’s future halted or altered career and educational plans for many DACA recipients, likely constricting their overall potential economic participation and contributions.  


The new executive actions to “keep families together” address family separation that is a part of the U.S. immigration system. Immigration policies around obtaining LPR status can lead to periods of prolonged family separation. As Zoya Gubernskaya and Joanna Dreby explain in their article, “US Immigration Policy and the Case for Family Unity” published in the Journal on Migration and Human Security, “Research consistently documents negative and persistent effects of separation from immediate family members on the health and well-being of immigrant adults and their children.” 


Undocumented immigrants contribute to the U.S. society in many ways from serving in the healthcare workforce and military to paying billions of dollars of taxes and contributing to the economy.  DACA recipients in the case of the Washington, D.C. metro area, have become vital community members by promoting a collective well-being via the brokerage of access to services and developing innovative advocacy strategies to negotiate the ongoing legal uncertainty that they themselves face. Immigrants are more likely to be entrepreneurs than native-born Americans. Evidence has shown that im/migrants create more jobs than they allegedly “take”. 9,000 of DACA recipients were employed as teachers or in similar education professionals. Some 343,000 DACA recipients have served in essential jobs on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic in health care, education, and food services. In 2021, undocumented immigrants contributed $30.8 billion in total taxes nationally, including $18.6 billion in federal income taxes and $12.2 billion in state and local taxes. 

Thomas J. Rachko, Jr. serves as a research-to-policy implementation specialist at the Im/migrant Well-Being Research Center and Im/migrant Well-Being Scholar Collaborative.


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