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Lawmakers, Business and Labor Voices, and Communities Urge Biden Administration to Protect Families, Boost Economy By Expanding Work Permits to Immigrant Spouses of U.S. Citizens

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A host of lawmakers, business and labor leaders, and community members are urging the Biden administration to, among other actions, protect mixed-status families and boost local economies by extending work permits to longtime immigrant contributors, including the undocumented spouses of U.S. citizens.

“The more than 1.1 million undocumented spouses married to a U.S. citizen have lived in the U.S. on average 16 years, and many have been married to their U.S. citizen spouses for at least a decade,” 19 U.S. Senators told President Biden in a March 26 letter. Nearly five million U.S. citizen children have at least one undocumented parent. “Yet, these families live in fear that they may be separated from their loved one due to deportation,” lawmakers said, “and often forgo much needed health care and decline to report crimes due to their immigration status.”

While many assume that undocumented immigrants automatically become U.S. citizens through marriage, this just isn’t so. For those that are eligible, they must go through an application process that is long, arduous, and expensive. In one request from the letter, lawmakers urge the Biden administration to allow spouses of American citizens to work while their green cards are pending. For other undocumented immigrant spouses, lawmakers ask the Biden administration to consider relief on a case-by-case basis.

Last week, the American Families United (AFU) and American Business Immigration Coalition (ABIC) Action discussed with the Denver office of Senator Michael Bennet, one of the signatories of the letter to the president. The discussion featured comments from the Markowitz family, which is currently being forced to live outside the U.S. due to our outdated immigration system.

“After meeting, falling in love and marrying, we are forced to live on the fringe of our American society,” Ed Markowitz said in a release from AFU and ABIC. “Our family has paid immensely and there is no telling if it will ever be enough. It’s just impossible to understand what has been accomplished by such ineffective policy. President Biden, we need the relief that only you can provide right now. Bring our American families home.”

In Nevada that same week, a discussion by ABIC Action and the Latin Chamber of Commerce noted the significant contributions that undocumented workers in the state make to the economy, including “paying $4.6 billion in taxes and wielding a spending power of $16.2 billion.” Conversely, the lack of immigration action negatively affects all communities. While the state has seen a growth in population, the labor shortage in construction – an industry powered by immigrants – means that builders “can’t expand their companies to meet the growing demand for housing,” the Southern Nevada Home Builders Association said. “This only drives up costs and impacts affordability.”

“To me, it is so simple that we are experiencing a labor shortage and the very obvious solution to that problem is to expand work authorization to a group of folks with no criminal record, who have been in the US contributing and paying taxes, to fill the jobs that we need to fill,” said Donnie Gibson, President of Civil Werx. 

Other requests by lawmakers include a call to take steps to streamline the process by which Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals holders may obtain immigration status through an employer, “such as increasing coordination between the Department of State and USCIS to ensure timely scheduling of appointments for DACA holders seeking to change status.”

Among the families that could benefit from action by the Biden administration include Liza, a flight attendant who said that she and her husband of more than a decade tried to begin the application process just as soon as they were married, the Nevada Current reported in February. “Three years later, we hit the ultimate roadblock,” Liza 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,” the Nevada Current reported.

During a virtual press call hosted by ABIC and CASA this week, Jaime Contreras, Executive Vice President of 32BJ SEIU, said that the recent tragedy in Baltimore highlights the urgency for the Biden administration to act. The six workers lost after the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse last week were all immigrants from Mexico and Latin America.

“In light of the tragedy, we strongly urge the Biden administration to use its legal authority to the greatest extent possible to protect people who live and contribute in this country for many, many years – some for decades – but still lack a secure and enduring legal status,” Contreras said. “Thoughts and prayers are nice and welcome and appreciated, but actions speak louder than words. The administration can support workers who are essential to our economy – whether it’s in the service industry, agriculture, healthcare, or construction – by ensuring they have work authorization to continue building our United States.”

Recent polling has found that expanding work permits for undocumented spouses of U.S. citizens is favored by the vast majority of voters in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. “The proposed policy is favored by two-thirds of voters in these states before they hear any messaging and it is strongly favored by nearly half,” ABIC Action and AFU said in polling conducted by Celinda Lake. “Only one-quarter are opposed.”