The Washington Post reported,

An estimated 500,000 immigrants, most from Mexico, married to U.S. citizens will be eligible to apply for permanent residency through their spouses. Federal law requires undocumented immigrants to leave the country for up to 10 years and return legally.

Now, I've already sought and got clarification from immigration experts on the policy. The "leave the country for 10 years and return legally" only applies to people seeking to change immigration status who,

  • Entered without a visa (illegally).
  • And, who are married to US citizens.

My question is are there really 500,000 undocumented immigrants that meet this criteria. Previously there were two methods to skip the 10 year ban, an I-601, and an I-212. Even if we pretend like neither of these existed or were applicable to anyone are there 500,000 people this could affect? According to the Pew Research,

The unauthorized immigrant population in the United States reached 10.5 million in 2021, according to new Pew Research Center estimates.

This would mean that more than 1/20 undocumented immigrants must be wed to American citizens to get 500,000 people helped. Is this possible?

  • 7
    Honestly, I probably would have guessed that the ratio was higher than 5%. Commented Jun 26 at 15:01
  • 3
    I don't understand why the claim merits skepticism. What ratio would you have imagined instead, and why? Commented Jun 27 at 9:08
  • Isn't the issue here the denominator? The question is more around the 10 million number. They've been using 20 million for decades and the reality is more like 30 to 35 million.
    – A.Rowan
    Commented Jun 27 at 15:27

1 Answer 1


If we just use the criteria in the question (undocumented people in the USA married to US Citizens), there are far more than 1 in 20.

The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent think tank that researches immigration issues in North America and Europe.

Their 2019 analysis of data from the US Census Bureau suggests that 1,314,000 of the "Unauthorized Population" aged 15 and over is married to a U.S. Citizen. (This excludes divorced, separated and widowed people.)

That is 12% of the population aged over 15 (10,513,000), and only slightly less of the overall Unauthorized Population (11,047,000).

However, this Department of Homeland Security Fact Sheet (hat tip to @DavePhD for the link) explains the new permanent residency offer is also limited to people who satisfy more strict criteria:

To address this challenge, DHS will establish a new process to consider, on a case-by-case basis, requests for certain noncitizen spouses of U.S. citizens who have lived in the United States for 10 years or more; do not pose a threat to public safety or national security; are otherwise eligible to apply for adjustment of status; and merit a favorable exercise of discretion. If eligible, these noncitizens will be able to apply for lawful permanent residence without having to leave the United States. DHS estimates that approximately 500,000 noncitizen spouses of U.S. citizens could be eligible to access this process; on average, these noncitizens have resided in the United States for 23 years.

This answer doesn't attempt to show that the DHS estimate of that subgroup is accurate - merely that the base rate of marriage to US citizens is high enough to address the 1 in 20 figure raised in the question.

  • 1
    This is interesting- The data itself is not accurate, and they say so themselves on the pages. They adjust numbers based on estimated non-reporting... They also take the liberty of judging someone's legal status heuristically, based on "whether they meet the qualifications" for temporary visas, and not based on if they actually have them. Finally, the results are "weighted"to match control" data sets. Not that your answer is bad, it's high quality, but the source is a bit worrying for the integrity of the claims.
    – tuskiomi
    Commented Jul 1 at 16:52

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