New Immigration Rule Intended to Ease Family Separations

Despite the recent distractions of the fiscal cliff, President Obama has kept true to his promise by indicating that comprehensive immigration reform is a top priority for his second term. To Mr. Obama’s credit, the Department of Homeland Security has now published a rule it says will cut the time U.S. citizens are separated from relatives seeking lawful residency status. The most significant impact of the new rule, which will take effect March 4th, is the ability of undocumented immigrants to remain with an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen in this country while pursuing legal permanent residency, or a “green card.”

The policy shift is the latest in a series of executive changes made by the Obama administration as it seeks broader immigration reforms in the new Congress. More than 20,000 apply annually for the family waiver, which requires U.S. citizens to show they will suffer “extreme hardship” if their immigrant relative is barred from returning. Until now, thousands of illegal immigrant spouses, parents and children of U.S. citizens had to return to their native countries to apply for permanent U.S. residency, risking months or, in some cases, even years of separation from their families.

At present, undocumented immigrants can face a three or ten year ban on legally coming back to the United States, depending on how long they have lived in this country illegally.

To obtain a provisional unlawful presence waiver, the applicant must be an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen, inadmissible only because of unlawful presence, and demonstrate the denial of the waiver would result in extreme hardship for the U.S. citizen spouse or parent. Under the new provisional waiver process, immediate relatives must still leave the United States for the immigrant visa process, but they can now apply for a provisional waiver before they leave and their time outside of the U.S. is expected to last only days or a few weeks.

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