Undocumented Nevadans married to US citizens will get protection under new Biden policy

Undocumented Nevadans married to US citizens will get protection under new Biden policy

President Joe Biden speaks during an event marking the 12th anniversary of the Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals program, in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, June 18, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

By Casey Harrison, Jannelle Calderón

June 18, 2024

A new program is expected to help half a million undocumented immigrants married to US citizens have an easier path to citizenship. It will also make them eligible for a three-year work permit after initial review.  

President Joe Biden this week issued new protections for undocumented immigrants who have lived in the US for at least a decade and are married to US citizens, a policy that will likely have a large impact on Nevada’s immigrant community, advocates and officials said.

Biden unveiled a new executive order at a White House event Tuesday celebrating the 12-year anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. 

The order will help certain noncitizen spouses and children apply for lawful permanent residence without having to leave the country, instead allowing them to remain with their families in the US and become eligible for a work permit for three years.  

News of the executive action was first reported by PBS News last week. 

According to the executive order, people who are undocumented or noncitizens must have lived in the country for more than 10 years (as of June 17, 2024), be legally married to a US citizen, and meet the other legal requirements already established. The Department of Homeland Security will review the cases and those approved will then have three years to apply for permanent residency, or green card. 

MORE: DACA recipients get access to low-cost health care coverage under new Biden rule

The White House estimates that this change will protect about half a million spouses of US citizens, and its reach could be especially impactful for large immigrant communities across the Southwest.

As of 2022, the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute estimates that roughly 22,000 undocumented immigrants in Nevada are married to US citizens. In neighboring California and Arizona, the number of mixed-status marriages climbs to roughly 315,000 and 37,000, respectively.

The order won’t go into effect immediately, but Biden administration officials said they expect the program to launch later this summer. Eligible individuals will then be able to apply for the benefits and protections.

Rico Ocampo, lead organizer with Make the Road Nevada, called the executive order a “monumental step for immigrant families.”

“This decision acknowledges the significant contributions of undocumented spouses to our communities and economy,” Ocampo said in a statement. “As someone who has experienced the limitations of DACA, being married to a US citizen, I know how crucial this change is for the stability and well-being of countless families like mine, who don’t have to fear separation from their loved ones anymore.”

Michael Kagan, director of the UNLV Immigration Clinic, which provides legal representation for unaccompanied children and detained adults, also praised Biden’s effort, noting it would be life-changing for many families in Las Vegas. 

“[This] is something that might allow people in that situation to finally have the law recognize what is true in their lives, that they’re a permanent part of our communities and our families,” Kagan said. “I am really looking forward to seeing people who I know in this community have their lives changed by this initiative, based on what’s been reported about it.”

The order, Kagan added, would help individuals who are integral members of the community — who “work here, have kids here, coach soccer, coach little league, [and] volunteer at their church” — breathe a little easier.

Nevada’s Democratic lawmakers also celebrated Biden’s announcement, with Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto calling the new order an “incredible step forward,” and stating that “it’s the right thing to do, and it’s the smart thing to do.”

The action comes weeks after Biden issued a separate executive order that’s his most restrictive on immigration to date. The order allows officials to temporarily close the US southern border with Mexico and halt asylum claims if unauthorized crossings reach a rolling average of 2,500 over a seven-day period. Asylum requests will only reopen if fewer than 1,500 encounters are reported at the border over a 14-day window. 

Polls repeatedly show immigration as among the top issues facing voters ahead of the 2024 presidential election, and Biden has been working to contrast his stance with his likely Republican challenger, former President Donald Trump, who also utilized executive action to stymie asylum claims. 

But advisers close to Trump say that, if elected again, he would deploy an extreme crackdown on illegal immigration that — among other things — would include detention camps, mass deportations of millions of undocumented immigrants, and attempts to end birthright citizenship for babies born to undocumented parents. 

“I will never demonize immigrants,” Biden said unveiling his June 4 asylum order. “I will not ban people from this country because of their religious beliefs. I will not use the US military to go into the neighborhoods all across the country to pull millions of people out of their homes and away from their families; to put detention camps while awaiting deportation, as my predecessor says he will do if he occupies this office again.” 

Despite this being viewed as a positive first step towards immigration reform, advocates say they will continue to call on Biden to implement more measures to provide a path to citizenship for the estimated 10.5 million unauthorized immigrants in the US.

Kagan did note that the order could face lawsuits or be rolled back depending on the outcome of the election.

“We know that people who don’t want immigrants to stay in the country will take it to court immediately,” he said. “That might mean that implementation takes longer than people might hope, but I hope that we will see it implemented and that it’s going to change a lot of lives.”  

RELATED: Nevada Republican congressional candidate takes aim at birthright citizenship

On Tuesday, Biden also announced updates to ease the work visa process for DACA recipients that have graduated from a US college or university. According to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), there are more than 500,000 DACA recipients, many of whom are building careers and growing their families across the country. 

The White House announcement states that DACA recipients and other Dreamers, who have earned a degree at an accredited institution of higher education in the US, and who have received an offer of employment in a field related to their degree, will be able to receive work visas “more quickly.”

A report by Fwd.us, an immigration advocacy group, notes that 99% of DACA recipients have graduated from high school, and about half have attained at least some college education.

  • Casey Harrison


    Casey Harrison is political correspondent for The Nevadan. Previously, he covered politics and the Oakland Athletics' relocation to Southern Nevada for the Las Vegas Sun, and before that, was a digital producer at The Detroit News. Casey graduated from Michigan State University in 2019.

  • Jannelle Calderón

    Jannelle Calderón is a bilingual politics and community multimedia reporter with a passion to highlight the human side to policy and issues as well as showcasing the vibrant cultures found in Southern Nevada. She previously reported for The Nevada Independent and graduated from UNLV.


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