19 Jun 2024, 14:47

Biden relaxes visa rules in pre-election immigration balancing act

 WASHINGTON, June 19, 2024 (BSS/AFP) - President Joe Biden attempted a

political high-wire act Tuesday by announcing a citizenship pathway for half
a million immigrants married to US nationals, in a counterweight to his
recent crackdown on illegal border crossers.

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

"We can both secure the border and provide legal pathways to citizenship, but
we have to acknowledge the patience of goodwill the American people is being
tested by their fears at the border," Biden said at the White House.

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
centered on portraying the country as under assault by what he calls a
migrant "invasion."

Biden's action to protect a whole class of immigrants was immediately
condemned by Trump and other Republicans. However, it was hailed by
immigration reform activists who had previously been dismayed by Biden's new
border restrictions.

In his speech on the reforms, Biden said Trump was trying "to play on"
Americans' fears."

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 rules 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 around 500,000 people. In addition, some 50,000
stepchildren of US citizens are eligible.

Those approved will 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.

A senior administration official told reporters ahead of the announcement
that the White House accepts much more is needed to fix the contentious and
inefficient US immigration system.

However, "only Congress can deliver... comprehensive reform of our
immigration and asylum laws."

- Trump lashes out -

Trump attacked Biden's policy in characteristic fashion, with lurid language
and violent imagery.

"As innocent Americans are being beaten, raped, and murdered by Biden
illegals, Crooked Joe Biden isn't taking action to stop this invasion or
remove violent predators from our country," he said. "Instead, Biden is
granting mass amnesty."

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

But groups campaigning for undocumented spouses of US citizens to get work
permits celebrated.

"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

"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."

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador welcomed the news as a "step

- Attempt to stem flow -

The new protections for spouses of US citizens follow Biden's decision to
impose dramatic new restrictions at the Mexico border.

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 on Tuesday also simplified the process for migrants
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