Updated April 5, 2023
The American Families United Act (AFUA), or H.R. 1698, would provide protection from deportation and a pathway to a green card for some members of mixed-status families living in the United States. The bill is designed to protect the rights and interests of U.S. citizens by giving the U.S. Attorney General and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) discretion to allow certain individuals to remain with their families stateside.
The AFUA was introduced by Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) on March 22, 2023, and it is cosponsored by Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar (R-Florida) alongside other lawmakers. The legislation was originally introduced in 2013 by former Reps. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) and Steve Pearce (R-New Mexico).
In 1996, Congress passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), which eliminated key defenses against deportations. In particular, it made more crimes (including certain non-violent crimes) automatically punishable by deportation, erected further barriers to unauthorized immigrants legalizing their immigration status, and established lengthy bars to re-entry after an extended unauthorized stay. For instance, under IIRIRA, immigrants who remain in the U.S. without authorization for more than one year are subject to a ten-year bar on legal admission to the U.S. If an undocumented immigrant falsely claims to be a U.S. citizen, they face a permanent ban.
In practice, these laws have forced U.S. citizens with undocumented family members to hide in the shadows, leave the U.S. to keep their families together, or live separated from their loved ones for years. According to estimates, over 1.2 million spouses of U.S. citizens reside in the U.S. without authorization, and approximately 4.1 million U.S. citizen children live with at least one undocumented parent. Since IIRIRA was enacted, an estimated 270,000 spouses of U.S. citizens have been deported and at least 340,000 legal immigration applications for spouses of U.S. citizens have been refused.
The AFUA would provide the DHS Secretary and the Attorney General with case-by-case discretion to stop deportations in instances when an individual is a spouse or child of a U.S. citizen and when the removal of said relative would present a hardship to a U.S. citizen.
Specifically, the American Families United Act would:
- Provide DHS and the Attorney General with the discretion to protect certain family members of U.S. citizens from removal. For cases involving a spouse or child of a U.S. citizen, the Attorney General would have the discretion to terminate removal proceedings, decline to order the noncitizen removed, grant the noncitizen permission to reapply for admission, and/or waive one or more inadmissibility or deportability grounds if removal or the denial of a request for relief from removal would cause hardship to a U.S. citizen spouse, parent, or child. DHS would have similar discretion around removals and applications for immigration benefits, and the bill also includes protections for widows, widowers and orphans of U.S. citizens.
- Protect mixed-status families from separation. The bill would create a presumption of hardship around family separation.
- Establish a list of inadmissibility and criminal bars to discretionary relief. The bill lists a series of criminal offenses and other grounds that would preclude access to discretionary relief from either DHS or the Attorney General.
The National Immigration Forum would like to thank Megan Proudfoot, policy intern, for her extensive contributions to this summary.