Biden moves to ease visa rules after crackdown on illegal border crossings

US President Joe Biden (Photograph: Patrick Semansky / AP)

President Joe Biden announced Tuesday a new potential citizenship path for immigrants married to US nationals, balancing a recent crackdown on illegal border crossers in an attempt to thread a tricky pre-election political needle.

The Biden administration has been struggling to address immigration, a divisive issue for many Americans ahead of November’s presidential election.

The Democrat is seeking to be tougher on illegal migrants while contrasting himself with Donald Trump, whose attempt to win back the White House is heavily centered on portraying the country as being under assault by what he calls a migrant “invasion.”

Biden’s action was immediately condemned by Republicans, but hailed by immigration reform activists.

The new rules will streamline the process for those who already qualify for permanent residence, by removing a requirement they leave the country as part of the application process.

The new rules would apply to those present in the country for at least 10 years and married to a US citizen before June 17, 2024 — which the administration estimates to include half a million people.

In addition, some 50,000 stepchildren of US citizens would be eligible.

Those approved would be granted work authorization and the right to stay in the United States for up to three years while they apply for the coveted green card. That would then allow them to apply later for full citizenship.

“What we are announcing are potentially streamlined processes… (to) minimize the bureaucracy, minimize the hardship that having to leave the country creates,” a senior administration official told reporters ahead of the announcement.

However, “only Congress can deliver… comprehensive reform of our immigration and asylum laws,” another official added.

Activists celebrate

Republicans slammed the new rules.

Far-right House member Marjorie Taylor Greene said Biden “wrote a vote-buying free citizenship executive order.”

Congressman Josh Brecheen of Oklamoma said: “With the stroke of a pen, President Biden is now shielding 550,000 illegal aliens from deportation. This is all in an effort to appease their family members hoping to garnish their votes for the upcoming election.”

But groups campaigning for undocumented spouses of US citizens to get work permits celebrated Biden’s move.

“President Biden’s action to extend work permits for long-term immigrant spouses is morally right, economically sound and politically smart,” said Rebecca Shi, executive director of the American Business Immigration Coalition.

“The overwhelming majority of Americans support these humane and common-sense steps, and it will directly improve the lives of more than 10 million American citizens who have an undocumented family member,” she said. “Today, those families, and the advocates fighting on their behalf, can breathe a huge sigh of relief.”

At the same time, Biden is trying to address widespread concerns that illegal immigration has got out of control.

A previous, bipartisan immigration package pushed by Biden in Congress would have introduced the strictest policies in decades, but it fell apart when Republicans walked away from the deal — under pressure from Trump, whose campaign depends on portraying Biden as failing on the issue.

Biden then signed an executive order shutting down the border to asylum seekers after certain daily limits are hit — a move that immediately drew criticism from the left and a legal challenge from rights groups.

The administration has defended its asylum order and characterized the congressional push as “the toughest and fairest set of reforms in decades.”

Trump meanwhile has referred to immigrants as “poisoning the blood of the country” and promised mass deportations of those in the country illegally.

The Biden administration is also on Tuesday set to simplify the process for children who came to the United States illegally as children — known as Dreamers — to get work visas if they’ve graduated college and have a “high-skilled job offer.”