Joe Biden
U.S. President Joe Biden AFP

The Biden administration announced on Tuesday a new executive action aimed at protecting undocumented spouses of U.S. citizens, a move that could shield about half a million people from deportation.

It reaches those who have been in the country for at least ten years and allows them to apply for permanent residence without leaving the country, thus removing a significant barrier that required preventing them from seeking legal status.

The White House said the decision looks to "keep families together," with a source familiar with the plans describing the measure to NBC News as "the biggest thing since DACA," making reference to the Obama-era policy that in 2012 shielded undocumented people who were brought to the country as children.

A press release outlining the action added that "immigrants who have been in the United States for decades, paying taxes and contributing to their communities are part of the social fabric of our country." NBC News added that those reached by the measure would be allowed to get work permits on a case-by-case basis.

Moreover, DACA recipients who earned degrees in higher education and are seeking a job on that field will be able to receive work visas more quickly. The announcement comes on the 12th anniversary of DACA, which prevents over half a million undocumented immigrants brought into the country as children from being deported.

All actions are set to be challenged in the courts. Anticipating the possibility, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbing, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that passing legislation about it would be "the only action that will fully allow these deserving individuals to put down roots, start families, further their education, and continue contributing to our society without fear of deportation."

The potential announcement comes as immigration is playing a salient role in the presidential campaign, with Biden taking heat from both ends of the political spectrum for the government's policies.

The administration recently issued a controversial executive order a controversial executive order aimed at stemming the flow of migrants entering the country, which determines that once arrivals at the U.S. southern border reach an average of 2,500 per day over a seven-day period, officials will bar migrants from claiming asylum and deport them to Mexico or their home countries. The measure could be turned on and off and would be lifted when there's a daily average of fewer than 1,500 encounters between ports of entry.

The administration also got sued by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other immigrant advocacy organizations over the measure. The complaint was filed in a federal court in Washington D.C., with attorneys arguing that the decision violates a Congress' statute allowing migrants to request asylum regardless of whether they get to the country through a port of entry.

"For those who say the steps I've taken are too strict, I say to you that — be patient," Biden said on Tuesday, the same day he launched the executive order, seemingly addressing immigration advocates who criticized him for the decision.

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