Amendment to the Punishment Law: A Call for Executive Action by Joe Biden

Amendment to the Punishment Law: A Call for Executive Action by Joe Biden

In a collective effort, a group composed of at least 60 mixed families – American citizens married to undocumented immigrants – has reached out to President Joe Biden, urging him to utilize his executive power to grant conditional release to detained immigrants. This would prevent deportations under the Punishment Law, also known as the “10-year Law.”

Enacted by Congress in 1996, this law imposes a three-year ban on foreigners who accumulate more than 180 days of undocumented presence in the United States, increasing to 10 years if the duration exceeds 365 days.

The Plea for Conditional Release

The group’s request, conveyed through a letter, has gained support from Democratic representatives Pramila Jayapal of Washington, Verónica Escobar of Texas, Delia Ramírez and Jesús “Chuy” García of Illinois.

Backed by over 60 directly affected families and organizations advocating for immigrant rights, including American Families United (AFU), FWD.us, and American Business Immigration Coalition Action (ABIC Action), the letter urges President Biden to exercise his executive authority “to keep American families together and help reunite U.S. citizens with their spouses who have been separated by the harsh and outdated policies of our broken immigration system.”

Case Studies: The Stories Behind the Plea

Asna Bellido’s Case

Residing in Jacksonville, Florida, Asna Bellido’s husband was deported in June 2018 during the Trump administration. Despite having an approved I-130 family petition and an available visa slot for permanent residency (green card), Asna received the disheartening news at the embassy that her husband would have to wait the full 10 years of punishment before being able to return to the United States.

The couple has two children, aged 16 and 18, and they emphasize the challenges of obtaining a visa without the presence of the husband and father, especially considering that he was sent back to a country where he has nothing. Asna pleads for President Biden to exercise his power to grant a pardon in cases like her husband’s, allowing families to be reunited once again.

Luis Ventura’s Wife and the Fear of Permanent Separation

Luis Ventura, a U.S. citizen, is married to an immigrant from Nayarit, Mexico. They have been together for over 20 years and have two children born in the United States. Luis shares that they have hesitated to file a family petition (I-130) for his wife’s adjustment to permanent resident status due to the fear that during the consular process, her previous deportation and re-entry incidents will be revealed. This “re-entry” violation, although occurring many years prior, subjects her to a permanent re-entry ban under the Punishment Law.

Attorney Alex Gálvez explains that while the “re-entry punishment” is not lifelong, it is permanent, and forgiveness can only be sought after 10 years if there are U.S. citizen parents, children, or spouses involved. Luis expresses his hope that President Biden will consider their plea for executive action, as he believes the 10-year penalty is disproportionate to the offense committed.

The Plight of Countless Families

Organization FWD.us, comprising leaders from the technology community, including Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, and Dropbox, highlights that while U.S. citizens are generally able to sponsor their spouses and children for green cards, “millions of mixed-status families are unable to complete the process due to eligibility barriers in immigration laws that are difficult, if not impossible, to overcome.”

The group shares the heart-wrenching story of Jason Rochester, a U.S. citizen, and his wife Cecilia. After their son Ashton was diagnosed with cancer, Cecilia, who was undocumented, followed the misguided advice of an attorney and left the United States to return to Mexico.

She hoped to quickly come back with a green card sponsored by her husband. However, due to her multiple unauthorized re-entries into the United States, similar to Luis’s wife, she became subject to a permanent re-entry ban, which can only be overcome after 10 years outside the country. There is even a chance she may never be allowed to reunite with her family.

Power of Executive Action and Legislative Reform

The group of congressional representatives, on behalf of the 60 families, highlights the provision within the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) that authorizes the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to grant parole on a case-by-case basis for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit.

This discretionary parole authority has a long-standing bipartisan tradition and has been widely utilized by both Democratic and Republican administrations since the Eisenhower era. The organizations advocating for immigrant rights estimate that over 2 million U.S. citizens live with undocumented immigrants, and more than 350,000 have undocumented spouses.

The plea for an amendment to the Punishment Law and the utilization of executive action by President Biden is rooted in the desire to keep families intact and prevent unnecessary deportations.

The stories of Asna Bellido, Luis Ventura, and countless others highlight the hardships faced by mixed-status families and the need for compassion and reform in the immigration system. Whether through the President’s executive authority or legislation passed by Congress, the goal is to reunite families and halt unnecessary separations.

By addressing these pressing issues, the United States can strive towards a more inclusive and humane immigration policy.