Interviews & Profiles

How will Biden’s executive action on undocumented spouses of US citizens impact New York?

An interview with New York Immigration Coalition CEO Murad Awawdeh.

Murad Awawdeh

Murad Awawdeh New York Immigration Coalition

In June, President Joe Biden announced that he is taking executive action to implement additional measures to protect long-term undocumented individuals living in the U.S. Among other changes, Biden expanded Parole in Place to include measures that will keep families made up of U.S. citizens married to noncitizen spouses and/or those who have noncitizen children from being separated. The change would allow more of those people to apply for legal status without having to leave the country.

This announcement follows Biden's action to restrict who can receive asylum, excluding people who enter the country illegally while border crossings exceed 1,500 weekly. Since that announcement in early June, Politico reported that there has been a 40% decrease in daily illegal border crossings. 

Late last month, City & State spoke with the CEO of the New York Immigration Coalition, Murad Awawdeh, about the expansion of Parole in Place, which he said could impact some 20,000 New Yorkers. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What is the “Keeping American Families Together” action?

President Biden announced that he would be using his executive authority to take executive action to ensure that we can keep families together. Specifically allowing individuals who are married to U.S. citizens to be able to petition and apply for parole in place in the United States so they can adjust their status. Because that is, for the most part, some of the biggest prohibiting factor of individuals who are married to U.S. citizens who are undocumented, who can't adjust their status is because they may need to leave the country. But the parole in place would allow them to actually apply for parole, which gives them work authorization, and then allows them to apply to adjust their status down the road.

Requirements say that for individuals to qualify for the “Keeping American Families Together” they must “have resided in the United States for 10 or more years and be legally married to a U.S. citizen.” What about undocumented single parents with U.S.-born children?

The New York Immigration Coalition has been fighting for decades at this point for us to have comprehensive immigration reform. While we appreciate executive action, we still call upon Congress to step up and do their job in fixing our broken immigration system, which continues to leave people in the shadows and not allow them to live their full lives without status. We hope that this program, you know, gets implemented and moves forward in a streamlined fashion, but that it's also built upon, and that other folks can actually attain parole. Down the road, we have real immigration reform that allows the people who have called the U.S. home for many years the ability to get on a pathway to legalization.

Do you believe these actions are truly promoting “family unity” and that they will “strengthen our economy,” as the Biden administration claimed?

In the state of New York, immigrants contribute over $62 billion in state taxes. We have over $116 billion in spending power just here in the state of New York. The reality is that immigrants continue to power our local economies, across the state of New York and across this country. If we have more people who are able to come into the formal work economy, the better it is for the nation. That's what has continued to help the U.S. economy and financial outlook. The Congressional Budget Office put out a report not too long ago saying that we're going to have nearly a $7 trillion benefit because of the increase in immigration to the United States over the past few years. That's a good thing. It will continue to be a good thing, as long as we continue to create more pathways for people not just to come here but also pathways for the people who've been here who are stuck without status.

Since the announcement was released, have you been getting more calls? What has your work looked like since its release?

Our work has not changed yet. People have been asking about it, but the rules have not been released yet. They are in the process of drafting up the rules. They said you have to have been here for the past 10 years and married to a U.S. citizen. They haven't released additional information about the program. There will be an application and we know that there's going to be an entire process that's rolled out within the near future.

What can you say about the current state of media reports on crimes by immigrants and asylum-seekers? 

Unfortunately, we see different people in elected office right now continuing to scapegoat our community. What we do know is the facts of the matter. We know that report after report illustrates that immigrants are incredibly less likely to commit a crime and actually make communities safer. A great deal of the reporting is not based on fact. Are unfortunate incidents occurring? Yes. A very tiny minority of that is coming from immigrants. Do you want some specific data on the Parole in Place Program for New York? People who are eligible in the state of New York who are undocumented spouses and are married to U.S. citizens in the state of New York are about 20,000 people. Their average age is 43 years old and they've been in the United States on average for 23 years. Additional money added to the economy if they become U.S. citizens, will be nearly half a billion dollars for the state of New York. About 83% of them are already in the workforce. About 69% of them are working in short handed industries.  These stats are from analysis of the American Community Survey data using methodology with states where 1000 or more eligible individuals are included. 

What are immigration scams? Do you have experience working with individuals who have been scammed?

Unfortunately, we have. We have told people to ensure that they report immigration scams and specifically Notario scams to local district attorneys. Almost every district attorney in the city of New York has an immigration affairs unit who help and support immigrants who have been defrauded. We also ensure that we inform the proper authorities in such situations. The scams are not as prevalent as they were before, but it does still happen that people take advantage of individuals, charging them astronomical rates for submitting applications that they think that they should be submitting.