Immigration reform is nearing, as a priority for President Obama for his second term in office. In August those who were brought to the United States under the age of 16, completed high school, and have no criminal record, were allowed to apply for legal work permits (and in Massachsuetts, driver’s licenses and access to in state tuition) bringing them somewhat out of the shadows of the only place they know as home.
Yesterday, the “state-side waiver” that has been in the works for over a year, was finally implemented – to take effect March 4th, 2013. ( NY Times peice on the topic, in case anyone would like further reading: http://nyti.ms/UdQPvZ ) Under US immigration laws a Husband/Wife can petition a green card for his or her foreign spouse. If that foreign spouse entered with a visa yet stayed, no matter how many years ago, that overstaying is forgiven upon marriage to a US Citizen and, if there are no other obstacles, that person is eligible for legal residency in the United States.
On the other hand, if the person entered without a Visa then there is no option to obtain a green card without leaving the United States. Yet, there is another law that punishes anyone who LEAVES the United States after being here illegally for over one year with a 10 year ban (implemented in 1996). So, you can see the dilema... The law requires some people to leave to re-enter legally, yet the moment they leave hits them with a ten year ban. There is a waiver to this 10 year ban but the person had to, until now, apply for it from abroad causing fathers or mothers to have to be apart from their children and families while in this limbo state of the unknown (will I get the waiver or not??) for months if not years. This law never made much sense as it requires the immigrant to leave the country to process his status yet, the moment he or she leaves, they are not allowed to return for 10 years. It required the immigrant to attend an immigration interview at the US Consulate abroad knowing that he or she will be denied and told to apply for the waiver. Then the application would be submitted (having been carefully construed over the previous months in preparation for this moment) and the immigrant waits, months and months, for a decision on that waiver.
Obviously, this does not encourage the immigrant to go through the legal avenue as it means abandoning thier family for XX months and not being certain about ever being able to come back to them. Not only is this not a good option for many people but in most cases it is not an option at all. A family simply cannot lose the breadwinner (and pay for the process at the same time in addition to their expenses) or primary caretaker for that long.
A year ago a proposed change was introduced to allow the person to submit the waiver before leaving the United States to go to the interview abroad (making sure no other issues, such as a criminal record exist) to immigrate to the United States. This would allow for the person to wait for a decision on his or her waiver without having to be separated from his or her family indefinitely. Yesterday, January 2nd, this process was at last finalized and will be further amended until applications are to be accepted stating March 4, 2013. What a good start to humane immigration reform and 2013. It is going to be a good year.