The Immigration Department (USCIS) is proposing a change to rules governing how spouses and adult children of American citizens get their immigration status adjusted.
Currently, if an American citizen marries someone who has been in this country illegally for more than six months, the spouse is required to return to their native country before they can apply for their status to be adjusted. But once they leave the US, they are automatically barred from re-entry for three to 10 years, because they had overstayed their time in the first place.
The change to the family unity waiver will allow such spouses to remain in the US while filing the application to adjust their status, if their absence would create extreme hardship for the family.
This proposed change still needs to go out for public comment and may not actually take effect for several months.
But it is being seen in many immigrant communities as a step in the right direction.
From The Arab American News:
“Fixing our broken immigration system, particularly curtailing the prolonged separation of families, is especially important to the Asian American community,” said Karen K. Narasaki, president and executive director of the Asian American Justice Center and a member of the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice.
“Government bureaucracy should not keep families apart, and we believe this proposed common-sense change will benefit many immigrant families and their communities.”
The new policy would allow immigrants with families in the U.S. to request a waiver on the ban if they can prove their absence would present an extreme hardship to their families, and this waiver request could now be initiated from the U.S.
“Our immigration policies should prioritize keeping families together. We’re very encouraged to see the Obama administration enact this common-sense change to make things easier for the spouses of U.S. citizens,” said Nadia Tonova, director of the National Network for Arab American Communities.
“While we wait for Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform, we need the administration to do what they can to alleviate the suffering of families who are eligible for some relief.”
The proposed policy was published on Jan. 6 in the Federal Register. Luiz Perez, a Mexican immigrant, said he’ll benefit from the policy changes. He’s lived in the U.S. since he was 8-years-old and is married to an American citizen.
Perez and his wife are the sole caretakers of the wife’s three orphaned nephews and nieces. “I am thankful to the Obama administration for recognizing the importance of keeping American families together,” said Perez.
“As hard as it is to live without a work permit and with the fear of deportation, the prospect of being separated from my family is unbearable,” he added, saying the new changes would do away with the uncertainty that discourages many family members from coming forward and applying for legal residence.
“This is a common-sense processing change,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum. “As a result, there will be no government bureaucracy standing in the way of keeping American families together, immigrants will be able to get right with the law, and husbands, wives and children will not have to risk their lives to get their lawful visas.”