You wouldn't know it from all the political oxygen in the media taken up with the fiscal cliff and the kerfuffle over the House not voting for a Hurricane Sandy relief package, but the Obama administration yesterday announced a regulatory change that will make it incredibly easier for some illegal immigrants to apply for legal status. The Washington Post gave the development six paragraphs of coverage which it placed at the bottom of page A15 in the January 3 edition of the paper. Nowhere in that brief story were any critics of the new policy approached for comment.
"Immigrants who are unlawfully in the United States and are closely related to U.S. citizens will soon be able to apply for permanent residency from inside the country," Post staffer Tara Bahrampour noted in the lead paragraph of her story, headlined in the print edition, "Residency path for some illegal immigrants eased."
The rule in question, "set to go into effect March 4," will allow qualified people to apply for a provisional unlawful-presence waiver before leaving the United States to obtain their visas, significantly decreasing the time they must spend outside the country." By contrast, the current policy means that immigrants who are illegal because they overstayed their visas "must leave the country, often for years, and apply for an immigrant visa abroad."
The Los Angeles Times dealt with the policy change in more detail (emphasis mine):
Once approved, applicants would be required to leave the U.S. briefly in order to return to their native country and pick up their visa.
The new procedures could reduce a family's time apart to one week in some cases, officials said. In recent years a few relatives of U.S. citizens have been killed in foreign countries while waiting for their applications to be resolved.
“The law is designed to avoid extreme hardship to U.S. citizens, which is precisely what this rule achieves,” said Alejandro Mayorkas, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, in a statement. “The change will have a significant impact on American families by greatly reducing the time family members are separated from those they rely upon,” he said.
Until now, 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.
The new rule allows those relatives to apply for the waiver without first leaving the U.S.