Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Immigration Services Proposes to Make Some Sense out of Complex Rules to Keep Families Together

This month, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced a possible rule change for undocumented spouses and children of U.S. citizens who are eligible for legal permanent resident (LPR) status. Under current regulations, those seeking LPR status must leave the United States in order to file for a visa. Many of those who wish to become LPRs also qualify for a family unity waiver, but under current rules this waiver can only be filed outside of the United States, and the family must demonstrate that the U.S. citizen relative will suffer severe hardship if separated from the non-citizen relative. The family unity waiver can take months to years to process, which hardly keeps the family unified as the non-citizen must remain in his or her country of origin for this process. Furthermore, once undocumented persons leave the country they are subject to having their re-entry barred for 3 to 10 years, depending on how long they have been living in the United States without documentation. Therefore, many who are eligible to apply for LPR status make the difficult choice to remain undocumented, as the cumbersome process to become an LPR can lead to unreasonably lengthy and sometimes perilous separations.

The possible rule change means that spouses and children of U.S. citizens can file for the family unity waiver in the U.S. and can remain in the country while the waiver is being processed. These changes, however, do not eliminate the requirement that the applicants must leave the U.S. before being fully approved for LPR status, but if approved for the waiver they would know they could return to the U.S. within a reasonable amount of time.

While this proposed change is certainly not comprehensive, it could lead to a less damaging process for undocumented individuals, married to or children of a U.S. citizen, hoping to adjust their status. Family separation is traumatic, especially when compounded by the uncertainty of family unity waivers being granted and the chance of being barred from returning to the U.S. for years. This proposed change illustrates the difficult situations that arise because of current immigration regulations as it recognizes the harm these rules can cause. This proposed change is a step in the right direction for immigrant children and families.

For more information, read the American Immigration Council press release about the proposed changes and NPR Southern California’s affiliate KPCC’s coverage.

Julie Davidson

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