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Latino Daily News

Saturday June 2, 2012

Help Immigrants Taken an Important Step on Path to Citizenship

Help Immigrants Taken an Important Step on Path to Citizenship

Photo: U.S. citizenship

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The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has proposed an important change to its regulations which would help alleviate the family separation and financial hardship currently encountered by some immigrants who are seeking legal permanent residence (LPR) and have U.S. citizen relatives.  The proposed rule would enable these immigrants to apply for a waiver they may need to obtain their LPR status while living in the United States.  Under current procedures, they must return to their home countries before beginning the waiver process, which can last up to a year or longer. Thus, the proposed rule will encourage eligible immigrants who are fearful about lengthy absences from their families to regularize their status.  While the proposed rule is a positive step toward improving these procedures, it could go further, and extend relief to thousands more of our friends, families, colleagues, and clients. 

As civic leaders and elected officials with firsthand knowledge of the concerns of Latino immigrants and their American families, your input is influential and critical to improving the rule. NALEO have provided you with a sample comment letter and instructions for submitting the comments .  If you represent an organization that works with immigrants seeking LPR status, NALEO encourages you to add to the letter stories of your clients and stakeholders who might benefit from this proposed rule change. 

Additional Background

    Under current immigration law, certain immigrants can obtain LPR status through petitions filed by U.S. citizen relatives. However, when these immigrants are in the United States without authorization, they must return to their countries of origin in order to regularize their status. If these immigrants have been in the United States without authorization for at least six months, they will be subject to a 3- or 10-year bar on re-entering the United States.  The only way around the prohibition is to seek a waiver by showing that U.S.-based family members of the immigrants will suffer extreme hardship during their absence.
    Under present procedures, waiver applicants are required to return to their home countries before beginning the waiver process, which can last up to a year or longer.
    USCIS proposes allowing certain applicants to submit waiver requests and await decisions in the United States.  This change would eliminate an unnecessary and painful period of family separation for many.  It would also encourage more individuals to pursue LPR status: at present, a significant number decide not to follow up on approved visa applications for fear of the extended separation they will be forced to undergo in the interim.
    The proposed rule is a step in the right direction, but would exclude many immigrants who are eligible for waivers and who should benefit from this common-sense procedural change.  In addition, the proposed rule does not allow immigrants to appeal denied waiver requests, and declines to define “extreme hardship,” which has been interpreted narrowly and inconsistently by USCIS employees.
    It is critical that USCIS hear from as many stakeholders as possible that expanding the scope of the proposed rule will not only benefit immigrant communities but also increase the efficiency of Department of Homeland Security operations.