White House weighs immigration relief for spouses of US citizens

By Ted Hesson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The White House is weighing ways to provide temporary legal status and work permits to immigrants in the U.S. illegally who are married to American citizens, three sources familiar with the matter said on Monday, a move that could energize some Democrats ahead of the November elections.

Democratic lawmakers and advocacy groups have pressured President Joe Biden to take steps to protect immigrants in the country illegally as Biden simultaneously considers executive actions to reduce illegal border crossings.

Immigration has emerged as a top voter concern, especially among Republicans ahead of the Nov. 5 election pitting Biden, a Democrat, against his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump. Trump has said Biden's less restrictive policies have led to a rise in illegal immigration.

The White House in recent months has considered the possibility of executive actions to block migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border if crossings reach a certain threshold, sparking criticism from some Democrats and advocates.

The Biden administration also has examined the possible use of "parole in place" for spouses of U.S. citizens, the sources said, requesting anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

The temporary status would provide access to work permits and potentially a path to citizenship. No actions are imminent or finalized, the sources said.

A White House spokesperson said the administration "is constantly evaluating possible policy options" but declined to confirm discussions around specific actions.

"The administration remains committed to ensuring those who are eligible for relief can receive it quickly and to building an immigration system that is fairer and more humane," the spokesperson said.

The Wall Street Journal first reported the possible moves.

An estimated 1.1 million immigrants in the U.S. illegally are married to U.S. citizens, according to data by advocacy organization FWD.us.

A group of 86 Democrats sent a letter to Biden and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas last year urging them to protect spouses of U.S. citizens and create a family reunification process for those outside the country.

Speaking at an advocacy press conference in Washington on Monday, Philadelphia resident and U.S. citizen Allyson Batista said her Brazilian-born husband still lacks legal immigration status after 20 years of marriage.

Batista and her husband have three children together and run a construction company, she said, pleading with Biden to act.

"Year after year, we continue to live in trauma and fear of separation," she said, "especially if an unfriendly administration takes over again."

(Reporting by Ted Hesson in Washington; Editing by Richard Chang, Aurora Ellis and Deepa Babington)