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U.S. citizens urge Biden to expand work permits to undocumented spouses

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April Corbin Girnus, Nevada Current
February 15, 2024

Immigration advocates are calling on President Joe Biden to use his executive authority to expand work permits and deportation protections to undocumented immigrant spouses of U.S. citizens.

Existing immigration policy, they argue, is tearing apart loving families and forcing American citizens to make impossible decisions, like divorcing a person they love or leaving the country to live in exile with them. It also has a negative economic impact, keeping potential workers out of the job market during a time of labor shortages.

An estimated 1.1 million U.S. citizens are in a mixed-status marriage, according to the advocacy group American Families United. An estimated 4.9 million U.S. citizen children have at least one parent who is undocumented, according to the advocacy group FWD.us.

On Valentines Day, American Families United and American Business Immigration Coalition Action launched a campaign urging Biden to take executive action and parole the non-citizen spouses of U.S. citizens. Parole allows non-citizen immigrants to temporarily reside and work in the United States.

“The president has that authority,” said Ashley DeAzevedo, president of American Families United. “He’s demonstrated he isn’t afraid to use it to expand work permits for new arrivals, including over a million new immigrants from Ukraine, Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and Haiti.”

The husbands and wives of U.S. citizens deserve similar respect and opportunities, she argued.

“If (Biden) only showed a fraction of that effort to support our families, our lives could be so different,” added DeAzevedo, who is a U.S. citizen in a mixed-status marriage.

Joining the immigration groups in their call for executive action is U.S. Rep. Delia C. Ramirez, a Democrat from Illinois and the only member of Congress in a mixed-status family.

The 40-year-old, who is married to a DACA recipient, said she was 3 years old the last time Congress enacted “any real immigration reforms.”

“The reality is nobody in leadership in the last 30 years has done anything to really move comprehensive immigration reform,” she said.

Recent efforts to overhaul the county’s immigration system have stalled in Congress. The Senate walked away from a major bipartisan package earlier this month when it became clear House Republicans wouldn’t pass it.

That legislation did not address the issue of assistance for non-citizen spouses of citizens, said DeAzevedo.

“American voters can tell the difference between border policy and immigration policy,” said James O’Neill, director of legislative affairs for ABIC Action“They understand the labor shortage and they want solutions to that labor shortage.”

O’Neill said ABIC polled voters in seven swing states — Nevada, Arizona, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Georgia — and asked whether they would support a policy change to give work permits to “long-term immigrant contributors, farm workers, dreamers and spouses of U.S. citizens.” A majority, 66% were in favor; only 25% opposed.

Ramirez called the expansion of work permits for non-citizen spouses a “win-win” for the economy and mixed-status families. She added that the Valentine’s Day launch of a campaign to push for executive action was fitting.

“As we’re celebrating love, celebrating community, celebrating our spouses, the fact that so many people in this moment are worried that they may be separated from their loved ones because of this broken immigration system is despicable and unacceptable.”

Love stories

Elena, a Nevadan who is using a pseudonym to protect against possible repercussions affecting her federal employment, said she was sharing her story despite the risk because she wants to be a voice for the millions of people whose families have been “shattered by our nation’s broken immigration system.”

“I was married to the love of my life, who was an undocumented immigrant,” she said, her voice shaking with emotion. “Together, we worked hard to achieve the American Dream, raising two beautiful children, and purchasing our own home.”

But there hasn’t been a happy ending.

Elena, a U.S. citizen, has worked for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for more than two decades. She says she was required to submit to a background check and needed to provide her husband’s social security number, which he did not have.

Fearing his immigration status would cost her family their source of income, Elena says, she made the “agonizing” decision to divorce him.

“The repercussions of this decision have inflicted immense pain and suffering upon me and my children,” she said.

Elena said she was plunged into battles with depression and anxiety, the latter of which is particularly high during election years like this one.

“I look to see where the candidates stand,” she added. “What will happen? How could a different administration destroy my life?”

Elena and her then-husband had tried to correct his legal status only to be met with him being issued a 10-year bar from the United States for unlawful presence. It was a common theme among the more than half dozen American citizens who shared their stories Wednesday.

Liza, a flight attendant from Atlanta who chose not to use her whole name, said she and her husband of 12 years began the legal immigration process the week they were married.

“Three years later, we hit the ultimate roadblock,” she said. “We were advised my husband could be subject to a lifetime bar from the U.S. should he leave to attend his visa interview in Mexico. Imagine our devastation that day when instead of finally reaching the end of the arduous immigration process we discovered there was no end in sight.”

Liza, her husband, and their two children are now “stuck living in the shadows” — in constant fear of him being deported and having their family separated.

What Liza and her husband were warned about is exactly what Dr. Gina Cano says happened to her and her husband a decade ago. He returned to Mexico for a visa appointment and wound up permanently barred from the United States.

Cano recalled receiving the phone call where her husband told her he wasn’t going to be able to come back home to her.

“There was nothing I could do as a U.S. citizen to change it or to even appeal,” she added.

Cano, who at the time was finishing a family medicine residency in Cincinnati, Ohio, made the decision to live apart from her husband while finishing her medical training.

“The difficult decisions have continued,” she said. “Turning down dream job offers, leaving my country to keep our family together, giving birth to our children in a foreign country, and missing countless holidays and family events…”

Cano has now lived in Mexico for nine years, though she has traveled back to the United States periodically to work, including during the height of the covid pandemic when health care professionals were in dire need.

“I’m facing living apart from my aging parents and never being able to pursue our dreams together as a family because of these outdated and ineffective immigration bars,” she said. “My husband is a kind, hardworking man who received a permanent bar for just having helped his family. We should not be punished for the rest of our lives for that.”

Ed Markowitz, an American citizen with Colorado roots, experienced something similar. Like others who shared their stories, the Navy veteran said he knew his wife Rocio was undocumented when they married, but he expected his citizenship to be able to provide a path toward legalization.

It did not.

Instead, in 2011, Rocio was permanently barred from reentering the United States after she left in search of medical care for their son. The couple and their son now live in Canada.

“This dysfunctional system has forced my son, my wife, and me to live in exile, away from our families and away from everything I’ve ever known as home,” he said.

It is “an injustice being served to innocent and beautiful American families,” added Markowitz. “And it hurt. It still hurts.”

Nevada Current is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nevada Current maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Hugh Jackson for questions: info@nevadacurrent.com. Follow Nevada Current on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Nevada Current under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.