For undocumented immigrants, even those with a spouse or child in the United States, applying for legal residency can mean leaving the country for as long as ten years. A new rule issued Wednesday by the the Department of Homeland Security will ease the process starting March 4 for as many as 1 million of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, by allowing immigrants who can prove that time away from a parent, spouse or child will cause “extreme hardship” to return to the United States while they apply for legal status. The Los Angeles Times explains:
Once approved, applicants would be required to leave the U.S. briefly in order to return to their native country and pick up their visa. […]
The new procedures could reduce a family’s time apart to one week in some cases, officials said. In recent years a few relatives of U.S. citizens have been killed in foreign countries while waiting for their applications to be resolved. […]
Until now, many immigrants who might seek legal status do not pursue it out of fear they will not receive a “hardship waiver” of strict U.S. immigration laws: An illegal immigrant who has overstayed a visa for more than six months is barred from reentering the U.S. for three years; those who overstay more than a year are barred for 10 years.
The move is the latest by the Obama administration to ease harsh immigration policy through the executive branch. An August initiative, which allows eligible young people to apply for temporary permits to stay in the United States, has already succeeded in temporarily blocking deportation of more than 4,500 immigrants, with some 150,000 other applications pending. Overall, however, the Obama administration has continued to set records in the total number of people deported, saying that it is obligated to continue robust deportations until Congress reforms immigration policy. Among those deported over the past two years were more than 200,000 undocumented immigrants whose children were U.S. citizens. More than 5,100 children landed in foster care as a result of parent deportations, and that number is projected to increase to 15,000 if the current rate of deportations continues. Obama has promised to introduce comprehensive immigration reform in 2013 that includes a “path to citizenship” for 11 million undocumented immigrants.
As Univision’s Ted Hesson points out, this latest rule change Obama initiative will not apply to same-sex couples so long as the Defense of Marriage Act remains in effect.