In January of 2012 the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) proposed a change to the process by which undocumented persons who are immediate relatives of U.S. citizens may apply for legal residency.
The proposal is currently under a 60-day public commentary session; immigrant advocacy groups as well as immigration lawyers are asking the public to support the measure that will benefit a countless number of Latino Families.
“It is important to clarify to public that this is not a law yet,” says Stockton attorney Hector A. Sr. Cavazos, who deals with immigration cases.
Cavazos explained the situation faced by thousands of individuals as they return to their native countries in search of a path to legalization. “Under current mandates, if an undocumented man is married to a U.S citizen and they have kids together and if he does not have a criminal record —since he entered the country illegally— he cannot apply for his green card in the U.S.,” says Cavazos. In this example, Cavazos explained that the husband would have to go to the U.S. consulate in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico and wait for indefinite amount of time for his application to be process.
“The current process can subject U.S. citizens to months of separation from family members who are waiting for their cases to be processed overseas. The proposed change will have tremendous impact on families by significantly reducing the time of separation,” said USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas.
According to USCIS these individuals 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.
Many experts describe this path to legalization as a catch-22 situation because the applicants may be eligible for a green card because of the marriage, without the waivers, they can be barred from reentering the U.S. for up to 10-years.
The proposed change would allow the relatives to apply for the waiver while still in the United States, but it would not make these waivers any easier to attain.
“Among some of this regulation’s goals is protecting American Citizens and their families from extreme hardship,” said Javier Guerrero, immigration law student at Golden Gate University School of Law.
Although there are several economic or emotional factors that help determine “extreme hardship,” there is no set criteria said Guerreo.
Cavasos anticipates that the amendment will become a law this year as a way to seek the Latino vote by the Obama administration.
Although perceived as a small change, it is expected to encourage many families to go through this process as the time of separation is reduced.