Immigration Proposal To Keep Families Together Sparks Conservative "Amnesty" Attack
Right-wing media have attacked a proposed Obama administration rule change that would reduce the amount of time required for undocumented immigrants who are immediate relatives of American citizens to apply for residency as "stealth amnesty" by a "lawless regime." But the proposed rule change would allow eligible immigrants to obtain a lawful return visa without a long separation from their families; moreover, immigrant-rights activists have said that the current system encourages people to remain here illegally.
Right-Wing Media Declare Proposed Rule Change "Stealth Amnesty" By A "Lawless Regime"
Judicial Watch: Obama Administration "Using Its Executive Powers To Grant Illegal Immigrants Backdoor Amnesty." In an April 2 post, the right-wing blog Judicial Watch reported on a proposed Department of Homeland Security rule change by claiming the agency was on a "quest to implement stealth amnesty" and that the Obama administration is attempting "to blow off Congress by using its executive powers to grant illegal immigrants backdoor amnesty." From Judicial Watch:
In its quest to implement stealth amnesty, the Obama Administration is working behind the scenes to halt the deportation of certain illegal immigrants by granting them "unlawful presence waivers."
The new measure would apply to illegal aliens who are relatives of American citizens. Here is how it would work, according to a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announcement posted in today's Federal Register, the daily journal of the U.S. government; the agency will grant "unlawful presence waivers" to illegal aliens who can prove they have a relative that's a U.S. citizen.
This appears to be part of the Obama Administration's bigger plan to blow off Congress by using its executive powers to grant illegal immigrants backdoor amnesty. The plan has been in the works for years and in 2010 Texas's largest newspaper published an exposé about a then-secret DHS initiative that systematically cancelled pending deportations. The remarkable program stunned the legal profession and baffled immigration attorneys who said the government bounced their clients' deportation even when expulsion was virtually guaranteed. [Judicial Watch, 4/2/12 ]
Drudge Report: Rule Change Is "Stealth Amnesty." On April 4, The Drudge Report linked to the Judicial Watch post under the headlines, "Big Sis To Grant Illegal Aliens 'Unlawful Presence Waivers,'" and, "'Implement Stealth Amnesty.'" From The Drudge Report:
[Drudge Report, 4/4/12 ]
Jim Hoft: "Laws, What Laws?... Big Sis To Grant Illegal Aliens 'Unlawful Presence Waivers.'" In an April 3 post on Gateway Pundit, right-wing blogger Jim Hoft posted a section of the Judicial Watch piece under the headline "Laws, What Laws?... Big Sis To Grant Illegal Aliens 'Unlawful Presence Waivers.'" Hoft asked, "Is there any law this administration is willing to honor?" and concluded, "And the lawless regime rolls on." [Gateway Pundit, 4/3/12 ]
Fox Nation: "Obama Granting Illegals 'Unlawful Presence Waivers.'" On April 3, Fox Nation posted a portion of the Judicial Watch report under the headline, "Obama Granting Illegals 'Unlawful Presence Waivers.'" From Fox Nation:
[Fox Nation, 4/3/12 ]
But Immigrants Would Still Have To Apply For A Visa To Re-Enter The Country Under The Rule Change
DHS Proposes Reducing Time Required For Undocumented Immigrants With Family In The U.S. To Apply For Legal Visa. According to the request for public comment issued in the April 2 Federal Register, DHS proposed a rule change that would reduce the amount of time undocumented immigrants with immediate family in the United States would have to wait before applying for a legal return visa. From the Department of Homeland Security:
Currently, certain spouses, children and parents of U.S. citizens ("immediate relatives") who are in the United States are not eligible to apply for lawful permanent resident status (LPR) without leaving the United States because they entered the country unlawfully. These immediate relatives must travel abroad to obtain an immigrant visa from the Department of State (DOS) and, in many cases, also must request from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) a waiver of the inadmissibility that resulted from their unlawful presence while they remain outside of the United States, separated from their U.S. citizen spouses, parents, or children. In some cases, waiver application processing can take well over a year, and the prolonged separation from immediate relatives can cause many U.S. citizens to experience extreme humanitarian and financial hardships. In addition, the action required for these immediate relatives to obtain LPR status in the United States -- departure from the United States to apply for an immigrant visa at a DOS consulate abroad -- is the very action that triggers the unlawful presence inadmissibility grounds under INA section 212(a)(9)(B)(i). As a result, many immediate relatives who may qualify for an immigrant visa are reluctant to proceed abroad to seek an immigrant visa.
The rule change further notes that return visas will be issued only to immigrants "if there are no other grounds of inadmissibility and if the immediate relative otherwise is eligible to be issued an immigrant visa." [Federal Register, 4/2/12 ]
AP: Immigrants With Families In U.S. Could Cut Down Time Required "To Return Here Legally." A January 6 Associated Press article about the administration's proposal noted that undocumented immigrants with families in the United States who have been issued one of the proposed waivers must still "seek a visa to return here legally." From the AP:
Currently, many illegal immigrants must leave the country before they can ask the federal government to waive a three- to 10-year ban on legally coming back to the U.S. The length of the ban depends on how long they have lived in the U.S. without permission.
On Friday, the Obama administration proposed changing the rule to let children and spouses ask the government to decide on the waiver request before they head to their home country to seek a visa to return here legally.
The illegal immigrants would still have to go abroad to finish the visa process, but getting a provisional waiver approved in advance would reduce the time they are out of the country from months to days or weeks. [AP, 1/6/12 , via Yahoo News]
LA Times: Rule Change Would Benefit Immigrants "Seeking Legal Status." A March 30 Los Angeles Times article noted:
The Obama administration is proposing to make it easier for illegal immigrants who are immediate family members of American citizens to apply for permanent residency, a move that could affect as many as 1 million of the estimated 11 million immigrants living here illegally.
The new rule, which the Department of Homeland Security will post for public comment Monday, would reduce the time illegal immigrants are separated from their American families while seeking legal status, immigration officials said. Currently, such immigrants must leave the country to apply for a legal visa, often leading to long stints away as they await resolution of their applications. [LA Times, 3/30/12 ]
Immigrant Rights Groups Have Noted That Rule Change Would Reduce Delays In Reuniting Families
USCIS Director: Change Would "Minimize ... Bureaucratic Delays" Which "Separate Americans From Their Families." The AP article quoted U.S. Citizenship and Immigraion Services (USCIS) Director Alejandro Mayorkas noting that the change would reduce delays that "separate Americans from their families." From the AP:
The illegal immigrants would still have to go abroad to finish the visa process, but getting a provisional waiver approved in advance would reduce the time they are out of the country from months to days or weeks, said Alejandro Mayorkas, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The purpose is "to minimize the extent to which bureaucratic delays separate Americans from their families for long periods of time," Mayorkas told reporters.
It currently takes about six months for the government to issue a waiver, Mayorkas said. [AP, 1/6/12  via Yahoo News]
AP: "Pro-Immigration Activists" Have Pointed Out That The Rule Change Would "Keep Families Together" And Possibly "Save Lives." From the AP article:
Pro-immigration activists and lawyers embraced the change, saying it would keep families together and encourage more people now in the United States illegally to emerge from the shadows and apply for visas. Some said it could even save lives.
Democratic Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado recalled the case of Tania Nava Palacios, who went to Ciudad Juarez -- a hotbed for drug-fueled violence -- with her American husband and son in pursuit of a waiver. Drug cartel members killed her husband last year, his office said in a statement.
Kelly Alfaro, of Washington state, said her husband, Guillermo, waited in Mexico for eight months last year after he had his visa interview in Ciudad Juarez.
"I was terrified for his safety because I know how dangerous it is there and I had no way of knowing how long he would have to stay in Mexico," she said. [AP, 1/6/12 , via Yahoo News]
Immigration Attorney: Rule Change Would Alter Current System Which "Encourag[es] People To Remain Illegal." From the LA Times article:
Many immigrants who might seek legal status do not pursue it out of fear they will not receive a "hardship waiver" of strict U.S. immigration laws: An illegal immigrant who has overstayed a visa for more than six months is barred from reentering the U.S. for three years; those who overstay more than a year are barred for 10 years.
Lisa Battan, an immigration attorney based in Boulder, Colo., said the current process is "encouraging people to remain illegal."
Abel Aguirre de la Cruz and his wife, Jessica Martinez, a U.S. citizen, were carjacked at gunpoint with their infant child in November 2010 in Fresnillo, Mexico, while going through the waiver application process, according to Battan, the Colorado-based lawyer, who represents the couple. On March 15, 20 months after the family first applied for a waiver, the consulate in Juarez requested more information. [LA Times, 3/30/12 ]
American Immigration Lawyers Association: Rule Change "Is A Positive Step For Keeping Families Together" And "Will Literally Save Lives." In a March 30 press release, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) pointed out that the rule change will "keep families together" and "save lives." From AILA:
The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) commends the Department of Homeland Security's proposal to change its processes to enable spouses and children of U.S. citizens physically present in the United States to apply within the U.S. for the waiver they need to become U.S. permanent residents. The current procedure requires the spouse or child to leave the United States, file the waiver application in the home country, and wait for processing while separated from their U.S. citizen loved ones.
"Today's proposed change, permitting the waiver request to be decided stateside, is a positive step for keeping families together. It would result in a significant change in process for many individuals and, if implemented, will literally save lives. People have been kidnapped and murdered waiting for waivers in Juarez, Mexico, and other countries," said Eleanor Pelta, President of AILA. "It's a move that will be less destructive to families and bring about a fairer and more streamlined waiver process. [AILA, 3/30/12 ]
Catholic Legal Immigration Network: "The Current Process Has Caused Prolonged Family Separation." In an April 2 press release, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC) noted that the change would alter "the current process" which "has caused prolonged family separation." From CLINIC:
[T]he current process has caused prolonged family separation as individuals await adjudication of their waiver application in their home country. The proposed pre-adjudication measure allows individuals to apply for and receive a preliminary decision on their waiver application before departing the United States.
"The issuance of this proposed rule constitutes a meaningful and very positive step towards ensuring that the process of legalizing one's status does not come at the high price of being separated, often for years, from one's loved ones," said Maria M. Odom, executive director of CLINIC. "CLINIC supports the overall proposed rule and looks forward to providing detailed commentary over the next 60 days, noting that there are still fundamental areas in which the rule can be improved. It was disappointing to learn that this important benefit will be unavailable to those who have already been scheduled for an immigrant visa interview abroad, penalizing those who have already taken meaningful steps to legalize their status." [CLINIC, 4/2/12 ]