Administration Plans To Change Immigration Rule To Reduce The Amount Of Time Families Are Separated

The Obama administration is expected to announce a change today to immigration rules to reduce the amount of time undocumented spouses and children spend separated from their families. Currently, undocumented immigrants have to leave the country before they can ask the government to waive a three- to 10-year ban on legally coming back to the U.S., leading to lengthy separations for families.

The Associated Press reports that, under the new rule, children and spouses of citizens can ask the government to decide on a waiver request before they return to their home countries to apply for a visa. The government would still require undocumented immigrants to leave the country to finish the visa process to come back to the U.S., but “[t]his would streamline the process (and) reduce the time of separation between family members,” a senior administration official told the AP.

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Immigrants without criminal records who have only violated immigration laws can receive a waiver if there is proof that their absence would cause “extreme hardship” for their citizen spouse or parent. But it could take up to three months to hear back about a waiver request, and if their waivers are denied, then undocumented immigrants who had left the country to apply for the waiver could be indefinitely stranded away from their families. The New York Times reports that this change could give families peace of mind before an undocumented immigrant leaves the U.S.:

Having the waiver in hand will allow them to depart knowing that they will almost certainly be able to return, officials said. The agency [Citizenship and Immigration Services] is also seeking to sharply streamline the process to cut down the wait times for visas to a few weeks at most. […]

White House officials are resigned to the fact that there will most likely be no progress before the November elections on immigration legislation that President Obama supports that would give legal status to millions of illegal immigrants. They have been looking for ways to help immigrant communities without going through the partisan dissension in Congress.

This will open up a huge door to bring a large number of people into the light,” said Charles Kuck, an immigration lawyer in Atlanta who is a former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “There are hundreds of thousands of people who came to the United States illegally who are married to U.S. citizens who have not taken advantage of the waiver that is currently available. This changes their lives.”

In 2011, the government received 23,000 applications for hardship waivers, and about 70 percent were approved, so thousands of families will be aided by this small change.

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President Obama has called for an overhaul of the immigration system, but with little progress in Congress on the issue, he has made greater use of executive power to make changes on immigration. In August, the administration announced a plan to conduct case-by-case reviews of roughly 300,000 active deportation cases to ensure that it was focusing its resources on high-priority cases.

But congressional Republicans still complain about Obama’s “backdoor amnesty” for undocumented immigrants even as the changes attempt to help families caught in the immigration system.