A long-awaited change in immigration law for U.S. citizens married to undocumented immigrants is on its way. On January 6, 2012, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced on the Federal Register its plan to reduce the time that U.S. citizens are separated from their spouses and children while those family members go through the process of becoming legal residents.
Currently, undocumented spouses and sons and daughters of U.S. citizens who have accrued a certain period of unlawful presence in the United States and have to leave the country as part of the legal immigration process, are barred from returning to their U.S. families for as long as 3 or 10 years. However, they can receive a waiver to allow them to return to their families by showing that their U.S. citizen family member would face extreme hardship as a result of the separation. Unfortunately, the time for adjudication of the waiver can take up to two years. Meanwhile, U.S. citizen relatives are left in the United States with the full responsibility for their households, usually without the support of their spouses. Because of the inability to cover all expenses, they are often forced to have two jobs or even to ask for public assistance, affecting the economy as a whole.
Also, most of the waivers are filed in Ciudad Juarez on the U.S.-Mexico border, an extremely dangerous city where more than one applicant has been murdered or seriously harmed.
Under the proposed change, individuals will be able to apply for a waiver within the U.S. Once adjudicated, as part of the process they will have to leave for a visa interview at a consulate abroad. However, the time spent outside the U.S. will be less, as they will have a pre-approved waiver that will allow them to return to the U.S. much faster. While there are questions that remain as to some of the details of the process, hopefully these questions will be answered before the new rule is implemented.
The change has been applauded by many, including this author. Although this issue represents a small portion of the myriad problems arrising from the broken immigration system, this solution presents a significant, positive change in process for many individuals. This new change will definitely reduce the stress that many families are now forced to go through while trying to secure their relative’s lawful status in the United States.
There is great hope these changes will lead to a much-needed immigration reform. While many are concerned with legalizing “criminal behavior”, most undocumented immigrants do not have any criminal records. The only criminal act the party has committed is entering and remaining in the U.S. unlawfully. While that should not be condoned, punishing families with irrational laws that promote fear and discrimination, and create a further strain on the public fisc, provides no relief. Instead, a well thought-out law should be implemented to benefit not only the undocumented immigrants but the economy as well.