A recently announced immigration rule comes as a blessing for close to 1 million families nationwide who will not be kept apart during immigration proceedings, advocates say.
The new U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services rule -- set to take effect in mid-March -- allows for spouses or children of U.S. citizens who are undocumented immigrants but eligible for permanent residency to begin the paperwork without having to leave the country.
The new policy is a victory for Latino voters, said Arturo Carmona, executive director for Hispanic advocacy group Presente.org.
"These are precisely the kinds of measures that Latino voters and the larger Latino community hoped President Obama would enact," Carmona said. "This most recent use of President Obama's executive authority to improve the plight of immigrant families comes on the heels of his use of that same executive authority to improve the lives of the immigrant students benefiting from his Deferred Action policy announced late last year."
The Deferred Action policy lets undocumented students get a work permit, opening a pathway to legal residency and eventually citizenship.
Despite the two recent victories, Carmona said the ultimate goal is to have a comprehensive immigration reform that will help the 12 million undocumented people living in America.
"This most recent rule helps about 1 million immigrants," he said. "That leaves 11 million that we have to work to help them come out of the shadows in a humane way."
'I CAN'T GO BACK'
Previously families were split up while the undocumented spouse went back to his or her country of origin to navigate the U.S. immigration system.
That was a price local auto mechanic Ramiro Garza wasn't willing to pay to get his papers.
"I can't go back to Mexico and leave them here by themselves," the 35-year-old Rio Bravo native said in Spanish, so he chose to remain in the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant. "I work to feed my wife and daughter. If I leave, who will care for them?"
Under the policy set to expire in March, were Garza to apply for U.S. residency, he'd have to leave the country for a hearing and lengthy immigration proceedings. Most likely it would unfold in Ciudad Juarez, the Mexican city of drug war notoriety in which immigration officials process most such applications.
It's an ordeal Garza is happy to skip, and now that he can, he said he'll start saving money to pay his way through the application process to become a permanent U.S. resident.
"This is good news," he said. "I can go work the correct way and we can do better."
Ildefonso Ortiz covers courts, law enforcement and general assignments for The Monitor.
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