The most common scenario is when an individual crosses the U.S. border without going through an official port of entry, a concept that immigration lawyers refer to as “entry without inspection.” While parole typically applies to those seeking to enter the United States, the concept of parole-in-place extends this provision to those already present in the country.

It’s important to note that as of the date of this blog, parole-in-place applications are not yet available. However, once the program is implemented, an estimated 550,000 individuals are expected to be eligible to apply.

If approved for parole-in-place, applicants will receive work authorization and protections from deportation. Additionally, they will be afforded a period of three years to apply for a green card, which can eventually lead to U.S. citizenship.

The parole-in-place program will provide a much-needed pathway for eligible spouses and minor stepchildren of U.S. citizens to regularize their immigration status and potentially obtain permanent residency without having to leave the country. This will alleviate the risks, costs, and hardships associated with the traditional process of obtaining a waiver and applying for an immigrant visa abroad.

The Need for Parole-in-Place

For many spouses and minor stepchildren of U.S. citizens who entered the country without inspection, the path to legal status has been fraught with challenges and uncertainties. Traditionally, these individuals would face inadmissibility under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) due to their unlawful entry, requiring them to obtain waivers and undergo a lengthy and complex process to adjust their status.

One of the major hurdles has been the requirement to leave the United States and apply for an immigrant visa from abroad, which can trigger harsh penalties such as multi-year bars on re-entry. This not only separates families but also places an immense emotional and financial burden on those involved. The waiver process itself is discretionary and not always approved, leading to further anxiety and instability.

Moreover, the traditional path to obtaining a green card through a U.S. citizen spouse or stepparent can be prohibitively expensive, involving legal fees, travel costs, and potential loss of employment during the process. For many families, these obstacles have been insurmountable, leaving them in a state of limbo and constant fear of potential deportation.

The need for a streamlined and humane solution has become increasingly apparent, as families continue to face the harsh realities of an inflexible immigration system. Parole-in-place offers a much-needed alternative, providing a path to legal status without the need for lengthy separations or the risk of triggering inadmissibility grounds. By addressing this long-standing issue, the Biden administration aims to bring relief and stability to countless families while upholding the principles of family unity and compassion.

Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible for the parole-in-place program for spouses of U.S. citizens, individuals must meet the following criteria:

  • Continuous Residence: They must have continuously lived in the United States for at least 10 years since June 17, 2014.
  • Physical Presence: They must have been physically present in the United States as of June 17, 2024.
  • Legal Marriage: They must have been legally married to a U.S. citizen as of June 17, 2024.
  • Entry Without Inspection: They must have entered the United States without admission or parole and do not currently hold any lawful immigration status.
  • Lack of Disqualifying Offenses: They must not have been convicted of any disqualifying criminal offenses or pose a threat to national security.
  • Discretionary Factors: They must merit a favorable exercise of discretion, considering factors such as family ties, employment history, community involvement, and any mitigating or aggravating circumstances.

It’s important to note that meeting these eligibility requirements does not guarantee approval for parole-in-place. Each application will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and the final decision rests with the discretion of the immigration authorities.

Residence Permit is U.S. Immigrant documents Department of homeland Security United States Citizenship and Immigration Services

Application Process and Timeline

The application process and timeline for the parole-in-place program are yet to be officially announced by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). However, based on similar programs and immigration procedures, we can anticipate the following:

 Applicants will likely need to submit Form I-131, Application for Travel Document, along with supporting documentation proving their eligibility. This may include evidence of continuous residence in the U.S. for at least 10 years, proof of marriage to a U.S. citizen, and documents establishing good moral character and lack of disqualifying criminal records.

Applicants may also need to provide biometrics (fingerprints, photographs, and signature) and undergo background checks. Interviews with USCIS officers could be required in some cases to assess eligibility and discretionary factors.

The application fee for Form I-131 is currently $575, but additional fees may apply for biometrics and other services. Fee waivers may be available for those who demonstrate an inability to pay.

Processing times can vary significantly depending on USCIS workloads and the complexity of individual cases. Historically, adjudication of parole applications has taken several months to over a year in some cases. Applicants should expect to wait several months, if not longer, for a decision on their parole-in-place application.

If approved, parole-in-place will be granted for a period of three years, after which applicants can apply for adjustment of status to lawful permanent residence (green card) without leaving the United States.

It’s crucial to note that the specific application process, required documentation, and timelines may change once USCIS releases official guidance and instructions for the parole-in-place program for spouses of U.S. citizens. Consulting with an experienced immigration attorney is highly recommended to ensure compliance with all requirements and to increase the chances of a successful application.

Benefits and Implications

Parole-in-place offers significant benefits to eligible spouses and minor stepchildren of U.S. citizens who have been living in the country without legal status. One of the primary advantages is the ability to obtain work authorization, allowing them to secure lawful employment and contribute to the economy without fear of repercussions.

Furthermore, parole-in-place provides protection from deportation, offering a sense of security and stability for families who have established roots in the United States. This relief from the constant threat of removal can have a profound impact on the mental well-being and quality of life for these individuals and their loved ones.

Perhaps the most significant benefit of parole-in-place is the opportunity to embark on a pathway to permanent residency and, eventually, U.S. citizenship. After being granted parole, individuals will have a three-year period after which they can apply for a green card, allowing them to legally reside and work in the country permanently. This process ultimately paves the way for naturalization, enabling them to fully participate in civic life and enjoy the rights and privileges of U.S. citizenship.

By providing a legal avenue for these individuals to regularize their status, parole-in-place not only benefits the families directly involved but also contributes to the overall well-being of communities. It fosters social cohesion, economic stability, and a sense of belonging for those who have already established deep ties to the United States.

Comparing Parole-in-Place with Traditional Paths

The parole-in-place program represents a significant departure from the traditional paths available for undocumented spouses of U.S. citizens to obtain legal status. Historically, the primary route involved applying for an I-601A provisional unlawful presence waiver, which forgives the manner of entry into the United States without inspection and would not subject them to the 3- or 10- year bar.  

However, this process carries substantial risks and challenges. The waiver approval is discretionary and based on demonstrating the U.S. citizen spouse would suffer extreme hardship if the applicant is not allowed to return.

In contrast, the parole-in-place program eliminates the need to leave the United States, mitigating the risk of triggering reentry bars and prolonged family separations. Approved applicants can remain in the country, obtain work authorization, and eventually apply for permanent residence and citizenship without the uncertainties and potential consequences associated with the traditional waiver process.

Moreover, the evidentiary requirements for parole-in-place appear more straightforward, focusing on continuous physical presence, the bona fide marriage, and admissibility criteria rather than the subjective “extreme hardship” standard. This streamlined approach could provide greater predictability and accessibility for eligible applicants.

However, it’s important to note that parole-in-place does not confer any permanent legal status or path to citizenship on its own. Approved applicants must still navigate the subsequent stages of the permanent residency and naturalization processes, which may present additional challenges and requirements.

Back view of young woman handing visa application documents to female consulate worker in immigration office

Legal Challenges and Considerations

The parole-in-place program for spouses of U.S. citizens is likely to face legal challenges, as it represents a significant immigration policy change. However, the Biden Administration’s legal justification for the program is grounded in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) section 212(d)(5), which grants the Secretary of Homeland Security the authority to parole individuals into the United States on a case-by-case basis for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit.

Critics may argue that the program exceeds the intended scope of parole authority, as it essentially creates a pathway to legal permanent residency for a large group of individuals who entered the country illegally. However, the Administration can counter that the program serves a significant public benefit by keeping families together and preventing hardship for U.S. citizens and their spouses.

Additionally, the parole-in-place program does not change or circumvent existing immigration laws; it simply provides a mechanism for eligible individuals to apply for adjustment of status within the United States, rather than having to leave the country and potentially face lengthy separations or bars on re-entry. As long as the program adheres to the statutory requirements for parole and does not grant automatic permanent residency or citizenship, it is likely to withstand legal scrutiny.

Furthermore, the precedent of granting parole-in-place to family members of military personnel strengthens the Administration’s position, as it demonstrates a well-established use of parole authority to address compelling humanitarian concerns and support military readiness and morale.

Ultimately, while legal challenges are expected, the parole-in-place program appears to be on solid legal footing, provided it is implemented carefully and in accordance with the statutory requirements for parole. The Administration’s ability to justify the program as serving a significant public benefit and addressing humanitarian concerns for U.S. citizens and their families will be crucial in defending it against potential legal challenges.

Historical Context and Precedents

The concept of parole-in-place has its roots in the broader parole authority granted to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). This authority, outlined in INA section 212(d)(5), allows DHS to temporarily parole individuals into the United States on a case-by-case basis for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit.

While parole is typically associated with individuals seeking entry into the United States, the concept of parole-in-place emerged as a way to extend this authority to certain individuals already present in the country without lawful immigration status. One of the earliest and most significant precedents for this practice was established in November 2013, when the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a policy memorandum granting parole-in-place to spouses, children, and parents of active-duty members of the U.S. Armed Forces, individuals in the Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve, and individuals who previously served in the U.S. Armed Forces or Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve.

The rationale behind this policy was to support military preparedness by alleviating the stress and uncertainty faced by military members regarding the immigration status of their family members. By granting parole-in-place, these family members could remain in the United States without fear of deportation and could obtain work authorization, ultimately contributing to the well-being and readiness of the military personnel.

This policy memorandum set a precedent for the use of parole-in-place as a means of providing immigration relief to specific groups of individuals, particularly those with close ties to U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. It demonstrated the government’s willingness to exercise its discretionary authority under the parole provision to address compelling humanitarian situations and promote broader policy objectives.

Potential Expansion and Future Developments

The Biden Administration’s parole-in-place program for spouses of U.S. citizens represents a significant step forward in addressing the complexities of the immigration system. However, it also raises questions about the potential for further expansion of this policy to other categories of individuals.

 One possibility is extending parole-in-place to the parents of U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Many families face the heartbreaking situation of having to separate from their parents due to immigration status issues. Granting parole-in-place to these individuals could help keep families together and prevent the emotional and financial strain of separation.

Another group that could potentially benefit from parole-in-place is undocumented individuals who have been in the United States for an extended period, have established roots in their communities, and have no criminal records. While a comprehensive immigration reform would be the ideal solution, parole-in-place could provide a temporary solution and a pathway to legal status for those who have contributed to society.

It is also worth considering the possibility of extending parole-in-place to individuals from specific countries or regions experiencing humanitarian crises, political instability, or natural disasters. This could provide a temporary safe haven and a path to legal status for those fleeing dire circumstances. 

Ultimately, the expansion of parole-in-place will depend on the administration’s priorities, legal considerations, and the broader political landscape. However, it is clear that this program has the potential to address some of the most pressing issues in the immigration system and provide relief to individuals and families who have been living in limbo for years.

As the parole-in-place program for spouses of U.S. citizens is implemented, it will be crucial to monitor its impact and effectiveness. This could inform future developments and potential expansions to other categories of individuals. Additionally, ongoing dialogue and collaboration between policymakers, advocacy groups, and affected communities will be essential in shaping the future of immigration policy and ensuring a more humane and equitable system.

immigration office worker approved

Concluding Thoughts and Recommendations

The parole-in-place program for spouses and minor stepchildren of U.S. citizens is a significant development in immigration policy. It addresses a longstanding issue faced by many families where one spouse has entered the country without inspection, making the path to legal status arduous and risky. By allowing these individuals to apply for parole and eventually permanent residency without leaving the United States, the program aims to keep families together and provide a more streamlined and humane process.

For those who meet the eligibility criteria, this program presents a valuable opportunity to regularize their status and gain work authorization, protection from deportation, and the ability to eventually apply for citizenship. It is crucial for eligible individuals and families to carefully review the requirements, gather the necessary documentation, and seek guidance from qualified immigration attorneys or accredited representatives.

While the program is likely to face legal challenges, its grounding in existing parole authority under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) suggests a strong legal foundation. Nevertheless, it is advisable to closely monitor any developments or changes that may arise as the program is implemented.

Beyond the immediate beneficiaries, the parole-in-place program also holds broader implications for immigration reform efforts. It demonstrates the potential for executive action to address specific issues within the bounds of existing laws, while highlighting the need for comprehensive legislative reform to create more permanent and inclusive solutions.

As the program rolls out, it is recommended that eligible individuals and families act promptly to initiate the application process and seek professional assistance if needed. Additionally, advocacy groups and community organizations should work to raise awareness and provide resources to ensure that those who qualify can take advantage of this opportunity.

Ultimately, the parole-in-place program represents a step towards addressing the complex challenges faced by mixed-status families and recognizing the importance of family unity in immigration policy. While not a panacea, it offers a glimmer of hope and a pathway forward for many who have lived in limbo for years.

Attorney Ingrid Borges Perez speaks
English, Portuguese, and Spanish

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