Jun 20, 2024

Biden's new immigration rule.

President Biden announced a controversial new immigration executive order. Image: Gage Skidmore
President Biden announced a controversial new immigration executive order. Image: Gage Skidmore

Plus, a reader question about Supreme Court cases.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 11 minutes.

Today, we're covering Biden's new executive order on unauthorized immigrants married to U.S. citizens. Plus, a reader question about Supreme Court cases.

See you tomorrow?

In tomorrow’s subscribers-only Friday edition, we are going deep on Robert F. Kennedy Jr: his campaign, his odds at having a major impact on the 2024 race, and what signals we should keep an eye on.


Yesterday, we released a video on the history of Juneteenth and what it means to Americans today. We interviewed experts and organizers, and also chatted with some folks on the street about the holiday in Pennsylvania and Colorado. Check it out here:

Quick hits.

  1. Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un signed a comprehensive pact yesterday committing each side to 30 years of defense aid between the countries. (The pact)
  2. The U.S. national debt is now projected to surpass $50 trillion in the next decade, according to a new Congressional Budget Office estimate. (The estimate)
  3. Louisiana Gov. Jeff Landry (R) signed a law requiring the Ten Commandments to be posted in every public school classroom. It's the first law of its kind and is expected to draw numerous lawsuits. (The law)
  4. A new Fox News poll shows President Biden leading former President Donald Trump for the first time since October of last year, with economic views becoming more positive. (The poll)
  5. The U.S. will rush the delivery of air defense interceptors to Ukraine by halting delivery to other allied nations, according to a new report. (The story)

Today's topic.

Biden’s new immigration executive order. On Tuesday, President Biden announced a large-scale immigration program offering unauthorized immigrants married to American citizens legal status and an expedited pathway to citizenship for them and their children. The executive order will allow applicants to live and work in the United States legally under an existing policy called “Parole in Place,” which grants temporary legal status for immigrants seeking long-term residency. Immigrants who have been living without authorization in the U.S. for at least ten years, have not previously been paroled into the country, do not pose a security threat, and have been married by June 17, 2024 will be eligible to apply with the Department of Homeland Security “by the end of summer.” 

Once accepted into the program, immigrants will be able work in the U.S. legally for three to five years before applying for citizenship. The government estimates the program will apply to roughly 500,000 spouses of U.S. citizens, as well as an estimated 50,000 children of unauthorized immigrants and step-children of U.S. citizens.

Under current law, a non-citizen residing in the U.S. illegally and married to a U.S. citizen would have to leave the United States and apply to re-enter the country legally to seek legal status. Depending on how they entered the country and how long they have lived in the U.S. without authorization, the spouse could have to stay abroad for up to 10 years before being allowed to apply to come back. Applicants can opt to apply for a waiver to avoid the waiting period, but that process averages about three and a half years to complete.

"For those wives or husbands and their children who have lived in America for a decade or more, but are undocumented, this action will allow them to file paperwork for legal status in the United States, allowing them to work while they remain with their families in the United States," President Biden said.

The announcement follows an executive order from Biden earlier this month capping the number of asylum seekers allowed entry into the United States, which upset many of the president’s liberal supporters.

The policy is the first expansion of Parole in Place since Congress authorized extending the program to immediate relatives of veterans of the armed forces in 2020, and if upheld will be the largest government program for undocumented immigrants since the Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) was announced in 2012. DACA was implemented by executive action during the Obama administration, and President Biden reinstated the program after it was repealed during Trump's term. The program currently shields 528,000 so-called “Dreamers” — unauthorized immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children — from deportation. Biden’s announcement came on DACA’s 12-year anniversary.

Relatedly, the State Department also announced on Tuesday a streamlined process for DACA recipients and other undocumented immigrants who have graduated from U.S. colleges to more easily obtain work visas.

Republicans attacked the move as cynical politics. Former President Trump, who said he would reverse the order if elected, claimed that Biden was “using” the immigrants for political gain. 

“But he’s going to let everybody come in, because you know what they’re trying to do, they’re trying to sign these people up and register them,” Trump said during a rally in Wisconsin on Tuesday afternoon.

Below, we’ll cover what the left and right are saying about Biden’s new order, then my take.

What the left is saying.

  • The left supports the order, calling it both compassionate and politically savvy.
  • Some say Biden still needs to do more to contrast his immigration policy with Trump’s.
  • Others criticize the right for moving the goalposts on this issue.

In The New York Times, Farah Stockman wrote “Biden courts some liberal love on immigration.”

“In a certain way, it is a no-brainer. The undocumented spouses of American citizens are already eligible for citizenship, but were required to leave the country to apply for a green card, a process that can take years. That’s especially true for people who slipped across the border — rather than overstayed a visa — since they could be barred from re-entry for up to 10 years. Now they will be able to apply from the United States and work legally while they wait. For about half a million American families, this is a game changer.”

“You don’t have to be a raging ideologue to believe that there should be consequences for breaking the law. Plenty of Democrats feel that people who sneak across the border or overstay a visa should be required to make amends, even if that just means paying a civil fine. That’s one reason Biden’s permissive policies on immigration are endangering his bid for re-election,” Stockman said. “But the move to protect undocumented spouses is politically savvy. It’s a family-oriented policy that makes a priority of the needs of American citizens, unlike those of his policies that allowed nearly two million asylum seekers into the country in recent years.”

In MSNBC, Julio Ricardo Varela suggested “Biden is learning a hard lesson that could make or break his campaign.”

“The executive action President Biden announced Tuesday is his boldest move on immigration ever… The overdue change is a new sign that Biden has not given up on Latino voters in his quest for a second term,” Varela said. “The new action gives him a clearer path to secure a larger share of the country’s 36.2 million eligible Latino voters in 2024. That route looked less promising earlier this month, after Biden issued an executive action restricting asylum. That policy left many Latino voters even more frustrated with his lack of any clear contrast between Biden’s views and those of Trump and Republicans.”

“To many, including myself, Biden’s attempt to win over GOP allies with a ‘tougher’ immigration stance failed. It was a legislative game he could never win, even though he will claim Republicans caved in and reneged on a bipartisan immigration bill because Trump told them to,” Varela wrote. “For Biden to succeed, he needs a clearer contrast to Trump on immigration or his campaign allies, who will always call any migration ‘a border invasion’... Tuesday’s announcement gives Biden the foundations of a real contrast.”

In The New Republic, Greg Sargent said conservatives’ “ugly eruption” over Biden’s order “has a hidden tell.”

“Fox News is already erupting over the news that President Biden is granting legal protections to a half-million undocumented spouses of U.S. citizens. On the network, MAGA diehards are deriding the move as an illegal exercise of executive power,” Sargent wrote. “There’s a key tell buried in all this reaction: It seizes on this new Biden executive action to refocus the argument on the state of the border, which is not seriously relevant to the policy, as it grants relief to longtime immigrant residents. This shows that Fox and MAGA cannot allow the immigration debate to focus on that population, because it is largely viewed sympathetically by the voting public.”

“There’s something highly revealing about the Fox and MAGA descent into such vile demagoguery. Miller, Trump, and others enthuse about launching mass deportations, but they often describe this as the removal of a dangerous, amorphous enemy class within. Biden’s new move highlights that many of those people are deeply connected to U.S. communities and to countless American families. These real people are harder to demagogue, so Republicans are shouting: Look over there at the border instead!

What the right is saying.

  • The right opposes the order, arguing it’s a political ploy that doesn’t address the immigration crisis. 
  • Some say the order tacitly incentivizes undocumented migration. 
  • Others suggest the move will fall flat with voters. 

The Dallas Morning News editorial board said “Biden errs with parole for undocumented spouses of U.S. citizens.”

“Biden is taking a misguided shortcut on immigration policy in an attempt to mollify progressives who were angered by his recent asylum cap rule to stem illegal border crossings. Pathways already exist for undocumented immigrants married to U.S. citizens to obtain legal status, so we are left to conclude that the president is pursuing this policy mainly for political gain. This kind of sweeping immigration policy should be debated and shaped in Congress,” the board wrote. “Biden’s executive action does nothing to address the roots of dysfunction in the U.S. immigration system. It will almost certainly end up in a court challenge while sending mixed messages to people looking to immigrate here.”

“Supporters of Biden’s policy frame it as family reunification, even though existing federal rules create avenues for mixed-status families to stay together. People who overstay their visas and are married to U.S. citizens have a straightforward path to getting a green card. For spouses who entered the country illegally, that path is more complicated but not insurmountable,” the board said. “Strong border enforcement and the humane treatment of undocumented immigrants are not mutually exclusive. Still, Biden’s latest move smells of political posturing rather than effective policy-making.”

In The Daily Signal, Simon Hankinson criticized “Biden’s outrageous use of a ‘parole’ loophole to grant amnesty to illegal aliens.”

“Congress intended immigration parole to be used by the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to allow a few hundred migrants a year into the country, in exceptional circumstances. But the president has used it to create a string of ‘McVisa’ programs,” Hankinson said. “This latest idea jammed through the parole loophole by Biden is called ‘parole in place.’ It’s based on some bogus premises, starting with pretending that someone living in the U.S. illegally for more than a decade is ‘applying for entry’ today. (That would be like describing someone who showed up on your porch tomorrow but didn’t ring the doorbell until 10 years later as a ‘visitor.’)”

“Biden’s new amnesty once again subverts the will of Congress by treating an alien who is paroled the same as someone who was legally admitted, thus eliminating the three- and 10-year bars to return,” Hankinson wrote. “This is not only unlawful and unfair, but will encourage yet more illegal immigration, fraud, and massive access to already stretched federal and state benefits. It also will throw another half-million cases onto Citizenship and Immigration Services’ already impossible workload.”

In The Washington Examiner, Conn Carroll wrote “the amnesties will continue until Biden’s poll numbers improve.”

“When President Barack Obama first announced his illegal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program 12 years ago today, he could at least plausibly claim that his unilateral executive action was not an amnesty… The program President Joe Biden is announcing today, another abuse of the parole authority, is an amnesty, as it will create a path to citizenship for an estimated 500,000 illegal immigrants that did not exist before,” Carroll said. “Biden is essentially creating brand new amnesty programs without congressional approval on the fly.”

“Voters are not happy with Biden’s border crisis. Democratic cities across the country are being bankrupted by the costs of having to house, feed, educate, and provide healthcare for the millions of migrants Biden is importing into the country,” Carroll wrote. “It is unclear who Biden thinks his new amnesty will impress. Voters who want to continue down the path of unlimited illegal immigration already know Biden is their candidate. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Biden hopes that some of those he is letting into the country illegally, or setting on a path to citizenship, will somehow convince others to vote for him … or maybe vote illegally themselves.”

My take.

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  • The best framing of this action is that it’s a popular policy affecting only people already integrated into the U.S.
  • The worst framing is that it affects a large number of people and could be a moral hazard or strong incentive for illegal immigration.
  • I worry about the signals and timing, but think the combination of Biden’s recent actions are directionally correct.

In the immigration space, policy debates like this one are the toughest for me to resolve.

Polling shows that most Americans agree the border should be secure, and we should create incentives for people to come here legally. Most Americans also agree that innocent children who are brought here illegally by their parents and then grow up to know the U.S. as home should be protected from deportation. In both cases, I am like most Americans. However, it gets a lot trickier when we start talking about expediting the path to legal residency or citizenship for many adults who knowingly broke the law.

The most compelling argument to me in favor of this policy is that it applies to people who have been here for over 10 years and are already married to U.S. citizens (and in some cases have children who are U.S. citizens), people who will be similarly integrated into the United States as legal immigrants. Furthermore, nearly half of these people — roughly 245,000 of them — did not come here illegally as adults but were brought here as children and are now DACA recipients. These aren't people passing through for work — they are people who, for various reasons, have made this country their home.

Finally, federal law already allows U.S. citizens to petition for green cards for their spouses, even those who came here (or are staying here) illegally. The main purpose of the new policy is to allow that process to take place without forcing applicants to leave the U.S. while it is underway, a longstanding disincentive to participation. Given that this policy isn't granting spouses citizenship, but only providing work permits while they go through an existing citizenship process, it doesn't feel all that extreme — nor is it out of line with what a majority of Americans already believe.

To me, that’s the most supportive framing: Biden is enacting a policy that is popular with Americans; using existing immigration systems as the instrument; and primarily allowing people who have been here for at least 10 years, are married to (or the step-children of) U.S. citizens, and who pass a background check to apply for legal work permits without being forced to leave the U.S. while they’re doing it.

The critical framing is that this policy is going to apply to half a million people, it could be illegal, and it has the most basic immigration policy risk of all: moral hazard. In other words, it effectively rewards all the people who came here illegally or overstayed their visas, just as long as they found a spouse and managed to avoid deportation for over ten years. And while offering the benefit of a pathway to legal work or citizenship, the policy does not simultaneously provide any substitute punishment (like a fine or penalty of some kind) to replace the previous deterrent of forcing people to leave the country for a period of time. It also does not only apply to DACA recipients married to U.S. citizens, a narrower and more reasonable policy that Biden could have chosen instead.

More relaxed residency policies paired with a strict border policy — like the combination of this executive order and Biden’s restrictive policy on asylum earlier this month — have at times caused a boom in illegal immigration. At other times, the personal economic motivations for migrants have completely trumped whatever the U.S. policies happened to be (see the spike in migration in 2019-2020 during Trump’s time in office). It's hard to predict how this policy will play out — the domestic economic winds could change and illegal immigration could plummet, or the situations in Central and South American countries could worsen and immigration could continue to climb. Biden cracking down on asylum while creating these pathways to legal work could have no effect on that, or those policies could impact immigration greatly. I just don't know.

What I do have a strong opinion about is that our immigration policy should do a few things: 1) It should secure the southern border with a robust system that can process the current influx of migrants. 2) It should deal humanely with the people who have already made America their home for long periods of time. 3) It should create incentives and pathways for people to go through the legal application process for work or citizenship. Those are pretty broad statements, but if you’re interested in reading more about those suggestions, I’ve gone into specifics before.

The upshot is that, to me, the combination of Biden's last two actions is directionally correct. Like the Dallas Morning News editorial board (under “What the right is saying”), I'd much prefer these changes be part of a legislative push by Congress, as this order has a good chance of being struck down in court. I also would prefer if this policy came after the Biden administration got a grip on the southern border, not while they are trying to get a grip on it — but I understand Biden is navigating the politics of the moment by offering an olive branch to the left.

On net, I'm still skeptical of the timing and worry a lot about the long-term signal this sends, but also happy for the hundreds of thousands of people I genuinely think should have a path to legal work that doesn't require them spending three or 10 years outside the U.S. This policy move may become more popular over time, but that's only going to happen if illegal immigration falls and some order returns to our system.

Take the survey: What do you think of Biden’s newest immigration policy? Let us know!

Disagree? That's okay. My opinion is just one of many. Write in and let us know why, and we'll consider publishing your feedback.

Don't forget.

In tomorrow’s subscribers-only Friday edition, we are going deep on Robert F. Kennedy Jr: his campaign, his odds at having a major impact on the 2024 race, and what signals we should keep an eye on.

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Your questions, answered.

Q: You've started to point out liberal reactions regarding court decisions that go against the "outcome" they want when the legal reasoning is sound. What do you think has caused this expectation among liberals (including liberal judges and justices) that outcomes have any impact on court decisions?

— Shruthi from Charlottesville, VA

Tangle: I think there are a few factors at play. First, it’s possible that you’re just noticing this happening more with liberals right now during this court, which does lean more conservative. If the Supreme Court had been issuing a string of more liberal rulings, we could be focusing more on liberal interpretations, finding them convincing, and asking the same question about conservatives. Even likelier is that the court’s docket would be filled with more liberal issues, and the court’s interpretations in those cases would probably feel just as convincing.

Second is motivated reasoning, or knowing the conclusion you’d like to reach when you start your thought process and then reasoning in a way to help you get there. It’s one of the most common effects of political bias I know of, and everybody is guilty of it. In the court case we covered most recently, I think it’s very likely that liberals started out with the desire to see bump stocks banned and reasoned accordingly. Conservatives also did this with the mifepristone ruling. It’s harder for me to see my own bias, but I’m sure I’m guilty of motivated reasoning, too — we all are.

Third is just a disagreement over the theory of how our laws or the constitution ought to be interpreted. Most conservative judges and justices follow “originalism,” meaning that they interpret legal texts by the letter of what they say. Most liberals, however, practice “textualism,” meaning they interpret laws by their plain meaning, considering the context of the time and intent of their authors. With the bump-stock ruling, Justice Sotomayor and other liberals saw guns fitted with bump stocks as falling under the plain meaning of the 1934 ban on machine guns.

Based on that difference, and against my first point, this difference in legal theory could explain what you’re seeing. An originalist is less concerned with impacts and effects, but to a textualist these are not external concerns but central to their legal interpretations. But my guess is that it’s a combination of all three.

Want to have a question answered in the newsletter? You can reply to this email (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

Under the radar.

Pollution from the East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment last year reached 16 states, according to a new study. After the train carrying toxic chemicals crashed, first responders decided to burn off hazardous materials that were escaping from punctured cars, creating a black cloud of smoke that spread across Eastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania. Residents in the area reported rashes, headaches, and nausea as the smoke cloud grew. But those chemicals would go on to spread as far as 16 states, with some of the chemicals raining down in South Carolina, Wisconsin, and New England, authors of a new study say. “It’s not death and destruction. It’s fairly low concentrations, but they are very high relative to the normal that we typically see — some of the highest we’ve measured in the last 10 years,” said David Gay, a lead author on the study. The Washington Post has the story.


  • 1.1 million. The estimated number of undocumented immigrants married to American citizens in the U.S., according to FWD.us. 
  • 600,000. The estimated number of children in the U.S. who live in this type of “mixed-status family.” 
  • 90,000. The estimated number of undocumented immigrants married to American citizens who are DACA recipients. 
  • 245,000. The estimated number of undocumented immigrants married to American citizens who are Dreamers (immigrants who arrived in the U.S. before they were 18). 
  • 62%. The percentage of U.S. voters who say they support a government program to deport all undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, according to a June 2024 poll from CBS News/YouGov.
  • 88%. The percentage of conservatives who say they would support deporting all unauthorized immigrants. 
  • 26%. The percentage of liberals who say they would support deporting all unauthorized immigrants.
  • +13%. The net support for President Biden’s recent executive order shutting down asylum claims at the southern border, according to a June 2024 Monmouth University poll. 
  • 46%. The percentage of Americans who say the executive order is not tough enough on illegal immigration.

The extras.

  • One year ago today we covered the PGA-LIV golf merger.
  • The most clicked link in Tuesday’s newsletter was the IRS closing a tax loophole for the wealthy.
  • Nothing to do with politics: Just in time for this week’s heat wave, a list of the six best beach blankets.
  • Tuesday’s survey: 1,000 readers answered our survey asking about the Supreme Court upholding a lower court’s reversal of the federal bump-stock ban with 48% supporting the decision but opposing the outcome. “I, too, would like to see less talk and more action from Congress,” one respondent said.

Have a nice day.

Over the past 50 years, the time fathers have devoted to childcare in the United States has tripled. In countries that offer paid paternity leave that increase is even larger, and the effects of increased quality time on children can be significant — researchers observe improved health outcomes and cognitive development in children who had quality developmental time with their fathers. Additionally, a new study shows that the father’s brain benefits from this quality time, too. A collaboration between Californian and Spanish researchers showed daddy-baby time contributed to growth in regions of the father’s brain that contribute to visual processing, attention, and empathy toward the baby. Good Good Good has the story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.