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Undocumented spouses of U.S. citizens should have easier path to citizenship, group says

There are an estimated 1.3 million spouses of United States citizens that are undocumented. A bill would allow for the Department of Homeland Security to have discretion when dealing with these individual cases.

Meghan speaks at the American Families United conference in Union Park on Wednesday, calling for Senators Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin to support their bill.
Meghan speaks at the American Families United conference in Union Park on Wednesday, calling for Senators Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin to support their bill.
Sam Heller/ Sun-Times

When Kathy McGroatry-Torres was marrying her fiance, who was not a citizen, she assumed it would be like the movie “Green Card.”

“Everyone has this concept that when you marry an American citizen, you do one interview and you just have to know what toothpaste they use and it’ll work out,” she said. However, when she showed up to the United States consulate for a visa interview, her husband was told he would not be allowed to receive a visa for 10 years or even be allowed into the country.

Now, 18 years later, she and her husband live in Evanston with her three kids, but he remains undocumented.

McGroatry-Torres shared her story at a news conference held in Union Park on Wednesday to call attention to the need for the U.S. Senate to pass the American Families United Act.

According to American Families United, there are an estimated 1.3 million spouses of U.S. citizens that are undocumented. The bill would allow for the Department of Homeland Security to have discretion when dealing with these individual cases in hopes of speeding up the naturalization process for them.

The most recent iteration of the bill was introduced to the House of Representatives in April by U.S. Reps. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, and David Valadao, R-Calif.

The group has been advocating for a bill similar to this for decades, and for McGroatry-Torres, it is hard to not start giving up hope that it will pass, she said. She started advocating publicly eight years ago, but nothing has changed.

“I have a 13-year-old and 16-year-old who, when we first started sharing our story, did not know,” she said. “Well, now they do know and have the same level of feeling of being disheartened and disillusioned with this country that we do.”

This version of the bill is a compromise, said Meghan, a member of American Families United who asked that her last name not be used.

“This bill does not get rid of these bars, but it allows discretion and allows for no more automatic denials,” she said. “It has already gotten bipartisan support, but we are still working on getting more.”

Like McGroatry-Torres, Meghan is married to an undocumented citizen and has spent years advocating for the bill.

American Families United specifically called on U.S. Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin, both Illinois Democrats, to support the bill if it makes it to the Senate, as they have backed similar bills in the past, she said. Duckworth specifically proposed a law to ban the deportation of non-citizen veterans, which has considerable overlap with this new bill, Meghan said. Durbin is currently trying to get support for the DREAM Act to create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought here as kids. Neither could immediately be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

The Chicago Workers’ Collaborative, which advocates for better working conditions and living wages for temporary staffing workers, came to Union Park to support the bill as well. Although the issue does not directly address their mission, many members of their organization are affected by immigration status, and some by this law itself, Chicago Workers’ Collaborative member Rosalia Tenorio said.

“We are trying to get legal status for everyone, not just for some kind of people. We need to work all together,” Tenorio said.

American Families United and Chicago Workers’ Collaborative pose for a photo in Union Park on Wednesday, where they were advocating for the American Families United Act.
American Families United and Chicago Workers’ Collaborative pose for a photo in Union Park on Wednesday, where they were advocating for the American Families United Act.
Sam Heller/ Sun-Times