The Obama administration kicked off the new year with new rules for undocumented immigrants applying for green cards. The updated rules, which don’t offer any new benefits to undocumented immigrants, are nonetheless expected to significantly cut down on the long-term separation of immigrant families.
Starting on March 4, undocumented immigrants applying for visas who can prove that separation from their U.S.-based family would cause “extreme hardship” can apply for a waiver to a three and ten-year re-entry ban and start their application process without leaving the country.
Prior to the announcement of the new Department of Homeland Security rules, undocumented immigrants applying for legal status who entered the country without inspection–migrants from Latin America who crossed the border into the U.S. without going through a checkpoint, for instance–had to leave the U.S. in order to take care of their visa application, and such trips would trigger a three and ten-year re-entry ban. Only after they had left the U.S. and were back in their home country applicants could apply for a waiver to those re-entry bans, but they would have to wait, outside the U.S. and away from their families, for that waiver to be approved. The waits could last over a year, according to the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
With the new changes, which will only apply to the spouses or parents of U.S. citizens, or, separately, minor children, applicants can begin their visa application process from within the U.S. Applicants returning to their home countries to finish their visa application process will be able to leave the U.S. without risking long-term separation from their U.S.-based family.
The move, praised by immigrant communities and those who advocate for immigrant rights, could affect some 1 million undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S., the Los Angeles Times reported. The updates were first announced last spring but were made official Wednesday.