News Column

Immigration Change to Ease Family Separations

Jan 3, 2013

Obama administration officials unveiled rules Wednesday that will allow many U.S. citizens to avoid long separations from immediate family members who are illegal immigrants as they apply to become legal residents.

The rules, announced by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, create a waiver that bypasses an arcane Catch-22 in immigration law. It had presented Americans with the prospect of being separated for as long as a decade from immigrant spouses, children or parents who were applying for the legal documents known as green cards.

Until now, the risks for those immigrants of leaving the United States to return to their native countries to pick up their visas, even ones that were already approved, had been so great that countless families decided not to apply, adding to the numbers of immigrants living illegally in this country.

Authorities will begin accepting applications for the waivers March 3. Administration officials announced the policy change a year ago, but they have been making revisions before publishing the final rules.

Immigrants who entered the United States illegally must return to their native countries to receive their visas before obtaining green cards. However, under a 1996 statute, once illegal immigrants leave this country, they are barred from returning for at least three and as many as 10 years.

With the new rules, Americans' family members can apply in the United States for a waiver from the bars to re-entry, before they leave to pick up their visas. Officials estimated the time immigrants would have to spend out of the country would be reduced to "a matter of weeks."



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