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Biden adviser talks shielding undocumented spouses of U.S. citizens from deportation

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

High on voters' minds this election year is the state of their personal budgets. The cost of housing is hitting hard, and in a moment, we will hear how it may influence people's decision on who to put in the White House next year. But first, to the White House right now. President Biden announced today new executive actions to protect an estimated half million undocumented spouses of U.S. citizens from being deported. Now this follows the administration's crackdown on asylum-seekers announced just two weeks ago. Joining me now from the White House is Tom Perez. He's senior adviser to President Biden. Mr. Perez, welcome back.

TOM PEREZ: It's great to be with you and your listeners, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Why this move, and why today?

PEREZ: Why this move is quite simple. Our immigration system is broken. The president has tried to work with Republicans in Congress to fix it. He introduced comprehensive immigration reform day one. A few months ago, we tried, and we developed a bipartisan bill that Republicans rejected because Donald Trump told them, I want the issue. I don't want to solve the problem.

And so the President acted as you said. A couple of weeks ago, he issued executive actions on border security to make sure we're securing our border. Today, he issued executive actions to make sure our immigration system is fair. And in particular, we're talking about people who've lived in this country for at least 10 years. The average person, by the way, has been here 23 years.

KELLY: Yeah, and people who are married...

PEREZ: ...They came to this country...

KELLY: ...To U.S. citizens, critically.

PEREZ: ...And they - yeah. And they...

KELLY: And the why now piece of this, what's different now? Has something changed?

PEREZ: Well, what's changed is what's remained the same, which is that Republicans refuse to work with us in developing comprehensive immigration reform. This is very similar to what happened in 2011. We tried to pass the DREAM Act - the Obama-Biden administration - and Republicans refused to. So the president and the vice president did DACA in 2012 to help DREAMers.

KELLY: Yeah. And...

PEREZ: We've tried to do the same things here, and so we got no cooperation. And so that's why we're doing, today, what we're doing.

KELLY: OK...

PEREZ: And we're going to help...

KELLY: ...I'm just trying to figure out what - since the President's been in office for a few years now - has something changed? Why not - you know, why do this today?

PEREZ: Well, again, I think why couldn't we have done immigration reform earlier? That's the president's biggest frustration. As he said today, I will work with anyone and everyone who wants to help me secure the border and make our immigration system more fair. But we don't have a dance partner right now, and that's why we're doing what we're doing.

And it's a matter of keeping families together. These are folks - I met someone in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania, you know, came here when he was 11, married his high school sweetheart. They have a painting business and a child. And they simply want to be able to get out of the shadows - too many people living in the shadows. There's widespread public support for this, Mary Louise. Over 70% of the American people support giving pathways to opportunity for folks who've been here 10 years or more.

KELLY: Let me let you respond to some of the criticism that is coming in from Republicans. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson says he expects courts to block this executive action. Do you expect legal challenges?

PEREZ: Well, I think we get challenged on everything, so I wouldn't be surprised if there is legal action, but I think this is very defensible. This is a very defensible change. Here's how it currently works. If that person I described to you in Pennsylvania wanted to adjust his status right now, he'd have to go back to Mexico - in his case - and apply there and literally wait years, and he won't know for sure if he's going to get it. So what we're saying, through this - what's called Parole in Place - is that you don't have to go back to Mexico. You don't have to separate yourself from your family. You can apply here, and while your application's pending, you'll get a work permit. That's keeping families together. It's keeping - in his case - a business owner working to provide for his family and his community. It's a common-sense measure that I think would withstand scrutiny because...

KELLY: So...

PEREZ: ...It's the exercise of authority that we have.

KELLY: So what is it that Republicans - like, again, I'll invoke Speaker Mike Johnson - are missing? Because they do not support this. He's come out with a statement today calling this an election year border charade and raising the fear that this will incentivize more illegal immigration and endanger Americans. That's his quote. How do you persuade people like Speaker Johnson, others who may share his view, that this is the best path forward?

PEREZ: Well, we live in a world where some people like to create false choices. We either secure the border, or we help people. If we help people who've been here 23 years, somehow that's going to be a magnet - I just don't buy that. And we have to remove these false choices. The president firmly believes in balance. We need to control our border, and we've done that through the executive actions. And we need to provide pathways to opportunity. You know, Ronald Reagan once said that, you know, we lead the world because unique among our nations, we draw our people and our strength from every country and corner of the world. And by doing so, we continually renew and enrich our nation. And if we ever close the door to new Americans, our leadership in the world would soon be lost.

I would advise Mike Johnson and other Republicans who have Ronald Reagan's bust in their office to read what Ronald Reagan - and by the way, George W. Bush in compassionate conservatism, and George Herbert Walker Bush and Abe Lincoln, for that matter - have done. This - there's widespread consensus. And it's time to...

KELLY: OK.

PEREZ: ...Put country over party.

KELLY: We've been speaking with Tom Perez, senior adviser to President Biden, who just joined us live from the White House. Thanks so much.

PEREZ: Have a great day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.