As a crime prevention specialist for the city of Minneapolis, Kali Pliego spends much of her time helping residents analyze crime trends and organize block clubs.

She said she wouldn't dare work with law enforcement but for the city's separation ordinance, which prevents police from cooperating with immigration authorities. The reason: her husband, Felix Pliego, is an unauthorized immigrant from Mexico.

That Kali is an American citizen while Felix lacks status forces them to steer their lives around constant hindrances. Only her income would qualify for their first-time home buyer's loan, limiting the house they could purchase. Her husband can't volunteer at their son Matteo's school because he doesn't have a social security card to run for a background check. He has foregone promotion opportunities because his manufacturing company requires him to fly out of state for training. Anytime they go on vacation, they drive.

Kali says Congress could end this ordeal for her "mixed-status" family and hundreds of thousands like it. She's president of American Families United, a national organization of American citizens lobbying Congress on behalf of their undocumented relatives.

Their bill to enable people like Felix a chance to gain legal status through marriage has been introduced with bipartisan support since 2013 and was most recently included in President Joe Biden's ill-fated Build Back Better Act. As the midterms approach and opportunity for immigration reform narrows, the Pliegos and other mixed-status Minnesotan families are fighting to keep their bill alive.

Felix grew up in Mexico. His father died young, so in 1994 when sudden devaluation of the peso triggered an economic crisis, he journeyed undetected across the border for work. He was 18 at the time.

He met Kali salsa dancing in Minneapolis. They married in 2007 and had Matteo five years ago. Yet the pathway to citizenship laid out for Felix is long and uncertain. As part of his visa application, Felix would have to leave the country for an interview with the U.S. Embassy in Mexico, which would find him inadmissible due to his unsanctioned entry and require him to stay out of the U.S. for at least 10 years.

He could then reapply, but there's no guarantee of approval.

"It's very risky," said Kali. "We refuse to go forward in the process. We're just hunkering down and hoping he doesn't get deported."

The American Families United Act would give the government discretion to waive the automatic banishment that comes with illegal entry for the spouses, children and parents of American citizens. Those with serious criminal records would be ineligible.

The bill is cosponsored by 60 bipartisan representatives of the U.S. House. According to a 2021 SurveyUSA poll, its proponents outstrip opponents nationwide and across political allegiances, with liberals supporting seven to one, moderates six to one and conservatives four to one.

Sponsors of the bill estimate 1.3 million Americans have been separated from a family member, while another 2.7 million live with that potential.

Still, it has never had a Senate sponsor.

Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith are among the cosponsors of the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, which would grant a temporary legal status to approximately 11 million immigrants including Dreamers and migrant workers. It mired in Build Back Better as the Senate parliamentarian repeatedly rejected attempts to include immigration provisions in budget reconciliation.

In a statement, Klobuchar's office reiterated her advocacy for broad legislation that would open a path to citizenship for multiple immigrant groups at once. Smith's office said she would consider American Families United when someone else introduces it in the Senate.

Mixed-status families organizing with American Families United host a video call weekly to debrief movement at the federal level. In the back of their minds is an uneasy recognition of Democrats' shaky control of the White House and Congress, and what the return of Republican priorities would mean for spouses in legal limbo.

During Barack Obama's terms, immigrants with criminal records were prioritized for deportation while those without caught a break. Donald Trump erased that distinction and detained asylum-seekers. Biden reversed many of Trump's orders.

Contrary to executive orders issued by the stroke of a president's pen, laws can weather political whiplash. The last time Congress passed comprehensive immigration legislation was nearly 30 years ago, with the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996.

"This definitely is the window to do it," said Katie Gomez Heil, who lives in Lakeville with her husband of 10 years and two young sons.

Gomez Heil's husband has a pending order for deportation. He was not prioritized for removal under Obama, but was summoned to court under Trump. The pandemic onset brought temporary relief, postponing their hearing for March.

"Many of us have gone through this roller coaster for so long," she said, "the only thing we can do is just keep buying time to hope that immigration reform will happen."

Deepinder Mayell, executive director of the James H. Binger Center for New Americans at the University of Minnesota Law School, said legislation to benefit Dreamers, migrant workers, temporary protected status-holders and mixed-status families might have had better luck as standalone bills this session. But it's hard to know whether anything could break through Congressional gridlock.

"There is a restrictive era, a trend that has been ushered in with the Trump era," Mayell said. "It certainly holds sway and prevents bipartisan legislation in a lot of circumstances."

While the American Families United Act is not as large a target for anti-immigration lobbies, groups that oppose any reprieve for unauthorized immigrants could prove difficult to surmount.

"It's an amnesty and all amnesties are bad," said Dave Gorak of the Midwest Coalition to Reduce Immigration. "Because what they do is encourage more illegal immigration, especially now during what is the nation's worst border crisis."

Noe Alberto is separated from his wife Anna and their 8-year-old son Leo by the more than 2,000 miles between Honduras and Minnesota. They speak daily by WhatsApp and spend summers together in Honduras.

Noe was 19 when he journeyed to the United States. He was caught by immigration authorities and released with a court date to plead his case for asylum. Fearing court to be a trapdoor back to Honduras, Noe continued north. He received a deportation order in absentia.

More than a decade later, Trump ascended to the presidency and the Albertos made the drastic choice to self-deport rather than risk Noe's arrest.

"We wanted to be able to have a plan," said Anna Alberto, a teacher at Eagle Heights elementary in Eden Prairie. "I'm not going to live without my husband, without my son's father, for five years, possibly 10 years."

But Honduras in 2018 was roiled by unrest stemming from claims of a stolen election the year before. Protests clogged the streets. Military police guarded public parks. Anna's immigration papers stalled, limiting her ability to work.

Mother and son returned to the U.S. within the year while father stayed behind. Noe had his visa interview at the U.S. Embassy in Honduras in October and was customarily denied, receiving an unwaivable five-year bar and a 10-year bar that is waivable if the Albertos can prove to the government that they have suffered extreme hardship.

"It's truthfully very sad … but they made a good-faith effort to live there and they had a very difficult time," said the Albertos' lawyer Michael Davis. "It's a strong waiver case. There's no criminal record, it's really just him having entered and having spent time here unlawfully."

The regional U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services center is experiencing a two-year backlog for a waiver of inadmissibility. It will have been five years since Noe self-deported next February, so Davis' best hope is that if the government agrees to waive his 10-year bar by the end of 2022, it wouldn't be much longer before he is reunited with his family.

"I try to stay positive," said Anna. "But I just have no idea."