Obama administration officials announced on Friday a proposed new rule that would allow some undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States while applying for legal status -- a step that would keep families together and get the president support from Latino voters, too.
Undocumented immigrants who are married to or are children of American citizens can generally apply for a visa known as a green card, but the law requires most immigrants already in the U.S. without papers to return to their home countries in order to receive their legal visas. The process can take anywhere between one to 22 years, and not every application is approved -- which leaves some stranded and permanently separated from their families.
The change that immigration officials are offering would benefit United States citizens who are married to or have children who are illegal immigrants. It would correct a bureaucratic Catch-22 that those Americans now confront when their spouses or children apply to become legal permanent residents.
Now, Citizenship and Immigration Services proposes to allow the immigrants to obtain a provisional waiver in the United States, before they leave for their countries to pick up their visas. Having the waiver in hand will allow them to depart knowing that they will almost certainly be able to return, officials said. The agency is also seeking to sharply streamline the process to cut down the wait times for visas to a few weeks at most.
"The goal is to substantially reduce the time that the U.S. citizen is separated from the spouse or child when that separation would yield an extreme hardship," said Alejandro Mayorkas, the director of the immigration agency.
This regulatory adjustment, which will likely take until year's end to complete, would not require congressional approval. It's big news for families that will no longer be forced to separate in order to be in the country with legal status.