Many immigrants married to U.S. citizens will get path to permanent residency, ability to work legally — but not all of them can benefit

A man wearing a blue button down shirt, white undershirt, and sugnalsses smiles at the camera while a woman with sunglasses and a black shirt stands facing him with head turned toward the camera. There is a desert scenery behind them.
Courtesy of Bart Black
Married couple Bart and Dora Black pose for a photo. Dora is awaiting the OK to return to the U.S. from Mexico while her immigration paperwork is processed. A new program announced Tuesday by President Biden to give legal status to hundreds of thousands of immigrants without legal status could leave her out.

Updated at 11:08 a.m. on Wednesday, June 19, 2024

More than 500,000 immigrants who lack legal status but are married to United States citizens will now have a clearer path to permanent residency.

New immigration protections President Joe Biden announced Tuesday mean people who have American spouses, and who have been in the U.S. for at least 10 years, will no longer need to return to their home countries before being able to apply for legal residency.

The new program will also allow the children of people married to U.S. citizens to apply for permanent residence without leaving the country. That change builds upon DACA programs started 12 years ago under former President Barack Obama, when Biden was vice president.

“Today’s announcement will transform the lives of thousands of immigrants and families across the U.S. who’ve lived in fear and uncertainty for far too long,” Jorge Loweree, managing director of programs at the American Immigration Council, said in a press release, which noted that more work needs to be done to address the needs of “mixed-status” families.

Among the people stuck in the middle are families who pursued legal solutions under the previous process, which required spouses to leave the U.S. before they could even apply for legal status.

That's the predicament facing Bart Black, a farmer who also owns a Fruita-based construction company and discovered his wife is not eligible for the new benefits. Dora Black returned to Mexico to apply for legal status, but by leaving the U.S. to complete her application requirements, she no longer meets the 10 year residency requirement. The sacrifices she made to become a legal immigrant have essentially backfired, according to Black.

“I’m pretty frustrated, because we were so hoping this would benefit us,” Black told CPR News on Tuesday. “We have already processed our paperwork, and my wife has already left the country, and she is waiting outside the country.”

Dora returned to Mexico for her immigration interview, during which her paperwork would be verified. But while there, her case was denied by the U.S. consulate in Juarez last June, according to her husband.

“It’s a little over a year that’s she’s stuck in Mexico,” he said.

Two people stand in front of the Statute of Liberty. A man in a blue button down shirt and sunglasses leans down near a woman wearing sunglasses, a pink shirt, and a backpack.
Courtesy of Bart Black

Black said he decided to write a letter to Biden, which states in part:

"I am very disappointed … that you failed to include the hundreds of thousands of us who are living with broken homes because our loved ones are being held in foreign countries awaiting ... processing. We have all followed the laws and rules and paid the fees that the law requires. I feel you have abandoned us.”

In Colorado, nearly one in eight workers is an immigrant as well as one in six business owners in the state’s densely populated Denver metro area, according to a 2020 fact sheet from the AIC.

Despite Black’s disappointment, some are praising the action, including Colorado Senator Hickenlooper, who attended the event at the White House.

“We’ve lived with a broken immigration system for far too long," Hickenlooper said in a press release. "Today’s executive orders are a welcome step forward and provide a pathway to work and sense of security for thousands who’ve lived here for decades.”

According to a press release from his office, there are about 12,000 immigrant spouses that lack permanent legal status living in Colorado.