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Advocacy groups, mixed-status families ask Biden to open work permits to undocumented spouses

Published: Wednesday, February 14, 2024 - 4:19pm
Updated: Thursday, February 15, 2024 - 9:11am

This Valentine’s Day, immigrant rights groups are calling on the Biden administration to use an executive authority to allow undocumented spouses of U.S. citizens to apply for work permits. 

The advocacy group American Families United and the American Business Immigration Coalition Action hosted a press conference Wednesday with U.S. citizen spouses and other members of mixed-status families.  

ABIC Action organizer James O’Neill told reporters says Americans are looking for solutions to U.S. labor shortages, and President Biden could do something today.

"Which is to protect mixed-status families by giving work permits through the mechanism that is parole," he said. 

Parole is a broad executive authority that allows non-citizens temporary protection from deportation and a work permit. Most undocumented people living in the U.S. lack a legal pathway to citizenship. Under current U.S. law, those who leave to apply for visa in their home countries could get a multi-year or permanent ban from returning. 

Arizona entrepreneur Irayda Flores moved from Mexico years ago and today owns a fish distribution company with locations and more than a dozen employees around the state. She says it took her 17 years to get her green card. Now, she wants to ensure other families don’t have to wait so long.

"My son is a DACA recipient and a college graduate, my daughters are U.S. citizens, and I am their proud mother, determined to secure a better future for them and all immigrant families like ours," she said. 

Sherrie Licon, another Arizona resident who works in education, told reporters she’s been married to her husband for 15 years. He’s undocumented, and she says the family lives in constant fear they could be separated. 

"A constant state of anxiety that the father, the rock of our family, could be apprehended and deported from the United States at any time," she said. "My children experience nightmares and scream in the middle of the night, fearing that their father has been taken from them."

American Families United estimates roughly 1.1 million undocumented people are married to U.S. citizens. The group says providing them work permits would bolster the U.S. economy while allowing families to live more freely.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been modified to correct the spelling of James O’Neill's name.