Fact Check

Did Joe Biden Say He Believes Illegal Immigrants Are "Already American Citizens”?

Biden spoke in March 2014 in the context of initiatives aimed at extending President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Published Nov. 7, 2018

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Image Via Drop of Light / Shutterstock.com
Vice President Joe Biden said that illegal immigrants are “already American citizens” to him.

In the summer of 2012, President Barack Obama signed an executive order known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which allowed some persons who arrived in the United States illegally as children to defer deportation, obtain work permits, and attend university:

Hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children will be allowed to remain in the country without fear of deportation and able to work, under an executive action the Obama administration announced on Friday. Administration officials said the president used existing legal authority to make the broad policy change, which could temporarily benefit more than 800,000 young people ... The policy, while not granting any permanent legal status, clears the way for young illegal immigrants to come out of the shadows, work legally and obtain driver’s licenses and many other documents they have lacked.

This executive order was intended to be a temporary fix after Congress failed to pass a more comprehensive immigration reform package known as the DREAM Act. Later, in 2014, it seemed likely that a bipartisan, legislative effort to resolve the status of 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States might succeed. It was in this political climate that Vice President Biden made remarks on the subject to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on 27 March 2014, as reported by The Hill:

"You know, 11 million people live in the shadows. I believe they're already American citizens," Biden said at a Washington gathering of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. "These people are just waiting, waiting for a chance to contribute fully. And by that standard, 11 million undocumented aliens are already Americans, in my view."

The statement represented a more liberal immigration policy than that envisioned by President Obama at the time:

The sentiment might come as a surprise to liberal Democrats and immigrant rights advocates who have hammered the Obama administration's deportation policies as far too aggressive and damaging to families.

Critics have pushed the administration to expand its 19-month-old deferred action program, which allows illegal immigrants brought to the country as kids to remain and work, so that it includes a broader swath of the illegal immigrant population. President Obama has resisted that move thus far.

Comprehensive immigration reform remains elusive, and the Trump Administration has aggressively challenged the constitutionality of the DACA initiative signed into law by Obama.


Preston, Julia and John H. Cushman Jr.   "Obama to Permit Young Migrants to Remain in U.S."
    The New York Times.   15 June 2012.

MacGillis, Alec.   "How Washington Blew Its Best Chance to Fix Immigration."
    ProPublica.   15 September 2016.

Lillis, Mike.   "Biden: Illegal Immigrants Are 'Already Americans'"
    The Hill.   27 March 2014.

Rose, Joel.   "Texas Judge Says DACA Is Probably Illegal, But Leaves It in Place."
    NPR.   31 August 2018.

Alex Kasprak is an investigative journalist and science writer reporting on scientific misinformation, online fraud, and financial crime.

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