A Common-Sense Immigration Move
The New York Times. Editorial
Published: January 6, 2012
The Obama administration is taking a major step toward bolstering legal immigration and protecting families — while removing some of the arbitrary cruelty from the workings of the immigration bureaucracy. It announced on Fridaythat it would change a notorious process to avoid separating families when immigrants apply to become legal permanent residents.
Under current law, an illegal immigrant who has an American citizen for a spouse or parent is generally allowed to apply for a green card to become a legal permanent resident. But the application has to be made in an immigrant’s home country — and any illegal immigrant who leaves the country is automatically barred from returning for at least three years, sometimes 10.
If such a separation would cause “extreme hardship” to an American citizen, an immigrant can apply for a waiver. But he or she has to make that application — and await the decision — in his or her home country. Because waivers are notoriously time consuming and hard to get, an applicant would typically wait months abroad for a waiver to be approved and risk being stranded from his or her family for years if it is not approved.
Not surprising, many immigrants who are eligible for visas — possibly hundreds of thousands — choose to stay in the shadows instead.
The new rule proposed by Alejandro Mayorkas, the director of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, would allow immigrants to obtain provisional waivers in the United States before they left to pick up their visas. This means they won’t have to be separated from their families for long, uncertain periods and will go to their consular appointments knowing that they will be able to quickly come home. The agency also said it was also planning to streamline procedures to cut down the wait times for visas to a few weeks at most.
Mr. Mayorkas’s announcement was a rare appearance of common sense and compassion on immigration in Washington. It was particularly welcomed by Mexicans, many of whom use the consulate south of El Paso, in Ciudad Juárez, a city with a horrific murder rate. Waiting months there for visa processing and interviews involves not just bureaucratic risks, but risks to life and limb.
President Obama, like President George W. Bush before him, has been utterly stymied by members of Congress, mostly Republicans, who oppose any and all reforms of outdated, unjust immigration laws. Even actions that promote legality in the immigration system meet diehard resistance. Advocates have long urged Mr. Obama to take the lead with administrative actions that balance humane policies with the rule of law. This is one.