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Biden’s action on undocumented spouses gives new hope for Michigan couple

Battle Creek's Lilia and Jose Reyes with their children, whose faces have been blurred to protect their privacy.
Jose Reyes
Battle Creek's Lilia and Jose Reyes with their children, whose faces have been blurred to protect their privacy.

The White House’s executive actions provide a path to residency for some undocumented immigrants married to U.S. citizens.

When Lilia and Jose Reyes first started dating five years ago, they knew keeping their family together wasn’t going to be easy.

Jose, who is originally from Mexico, is undocumented and has been living in the U.S. since he was 15-years-old. Even though, Jose is married to Lilia, a U.S. citizen, he hasn’t been able to qualify for legal status because he came to the U.S. without a permit.

“I am more likely to be deported because in any case where they just ask me for my documentation by not having it they’ll automatically apprehend me,” he said. “And that never leaves my mind.”

Living without legal status has colored many aspects of the Battle Creek couple’s life, including whether Jose can legally adopt his two stepdaughters.

“Right now, I am their father no matter what,” Jose added. “They consider me and see me as their real father but at this moment because of my situation it’s a little more complicated.”

Currently, Jose is the primary breadwinner for the household, working full-time as a construction site supervisor so that Lilia can stay home and take care of one their daughters who has a learning disability. Due to his lack of legal status, Jose worries that taking time to accompany his wife at their daughter's meetings with doctors could risk his employment.

“Sometimes I take a day off to take her to her appointments but then I worry that when I come back they’ll tell me: ‘You know what? We don’t have a job for your anymore since you keep leaving work every time you have to take your daughter and that’s not our problem,’” Jose said.

Lilia says she carries the burden of having to be the primary contact for the family’s official business.

“My husband helps me a lot but I have to fill out all the paperwork and sometimes I hold myself back because its a little overwhelming,” said Lilia.

A recent decision from the White House has given the Reyes family some hope.

Last week, President Joe Biden issued an executive action that would grant immigrants like Jose a legal status without needing to leave the country.

Currently, immigrants who enter the United States illegally are required to apply for a waiver from the government and undergo an interview with a consular officer outside of the U.S. if they want to obtain legal status. The process is not guaranteed and can sometimes keep mixed status families apart.

Biden’s executive actions would open a pathway for undocumented immigrants married to a U.S. citizen to qualify for a green card and later American citizenship.

“Long term people who already have ties in the community who are contributing to the community, who may have U.S. citizen children who are trying to legalize but because of the way they entered, they have been prevented from doing so,” said Veronica Thronson, director of the Immigration Law Clinic at Michigan State University’s College of Law.

Undocumented immigrants need to pass a criminal background check and prove they have been in the U.S. for at least ten years to be eligible for legal status under Biden’s executive actions. The program is expected to go into effect by the end of summer.

Meanwhile, Lilia Reyes remains hopeful that her husband Jose will obtain legal status by the end of the year, giving them the stability they have longed for since they first got married.

As WKAR's Bilingual Latinx Stories Reporter, Michelle reports in both English and Spanish on stories affecting Michigan's Latinx community. Michelle is also the voice of WKAR's weekend news programs.
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