Chicago-area immigration reform advocates greeted the Obama administration policy shift that will allow many here illegally to remain with their families while seeking legal status as a welcome step toward an eventual overhaul of federal immigration laws.
"We're hopeful that all of this portends a bigger improvement to the immigration system," said Lisa Koop, a managing attorney with the Chicago-based National Immigrant Justice Center.
Several thousand people in the Chicago area stand to benefit from the new rule, which makes it easier for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens to apply for permanent residency by allowing them to sign up for a "provisional unlawful presence waiver" while still in this country.
Such waivers can be granted to people who have overstayed their visas or entered the U.S. illegally if they can prove that their families would suffer extreme hardship if they weren't allowed to stay in the country.
The waivers do not guarantee permanent residency status, but without one, illegal immigrants can be banned from the U.S. for 10 years or more.
The policy shift, which takes effect March 4, does away with a requirement that applicants return to their homeland to apply for the waiver. The process can take as long as a year, forcing even those who eventually get a waiver to endure long separations from their families, Obama administration officials said Wednesday.
With no guarantees that their waiver applications would be approved, many immigrants here illegally chose to remain in the shadows rather than be forced to leave their family during the application process, said Fred Tsao, policy director for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.
At the National Immigrant Justice Center, attorneys are preparing for an influx of cases after the policy goes into effect, Koop said.
Many clients who appear to be eligible for a waiver delayed their application after the new rule was proposed in April, she said.
The new rule still will require applicants to return to their native countries for an interview at a U.S. Consulate after a waiver is approved, Obama administration officials said.
Because an approved waiver application often means a successful immigration application, Koop said, the new rule allows applicants to hedge the risks they take in formally declaring their illegal status.
"If you have this waiver approved and then go down and have your visa interview, unless something else arises at that visa interview, there is a pretty high likelihood that your case will go through pretty smoothly at that point," she said.
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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