Political Animal


January 06, 2012 10:35 AM Obama to make major green-card reform

By Steve Benen

For thousands of American families, this reform will have a tremendous impact.

Obama administration officials announced on Friday that they will propose a fix to a notorious snag in immigration law that will spare hundreds of thousands of American citizens from prolonged separations from immigrant spouses and children.

The change that immigration officials are offering would benefit United States citizens who are married to or have children who are illegal immigrants. It would correct a bureaucratic Catch-22 that those Americans now confront when their spouses or children apply to become legal permanent residents.

Although the tweak that officials of the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services are proposing appears small, immigration lawyers and advocates for immigrants say it will make a great difference for countless Americans. Thousands will no longer be separated from loved ones, they said, and the change could encourage Americans to come forward to apply to bring illegal immigrant family members into the legal system.

As the L.A. Times report explained, under the status quo, those in the country illegally are expected to leave to apply for a green card. “Depending on how long they’ve lived in America, once they leave they are barred from returning for up to 10 years. They can claim that their absence would pose a hardship for their spouse or parent and ask the Department of Homeland Security to waive the re-entry restrictions. But to do that, they must first travel to a consular office abroad and begin a process that can take months or even years, experts say.”

What’s more, those waivers are often extremely difficult to get, leading to mass separations of families for several years.

Here’s what we’ll see going forward.

Now, Citizenship and Immigration Services proposes to allow the immigrants to obtain a provisional waiver in the United States, before they leave for their countries to pick up their visas. Having the waiver in hand will allow them to depart knowing that they will almost certainly be able to return, officials said. The agency is also seeking to sharply streamline the process to cut down the wait times for visas to a few weeks at most.

Charles Kuck, an immigration lawyer in Atlanta who is a former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told the NYT, “This will open up a huge door to bring a large number of people into the light. There are hundreds of thousands of people who came to the United States illegally who are married to U.S. citizens who have not taken advantage of the waiver that is currently available. This changes their lives.”

Ideally, this would be part of a larger immigration-reform initiative, but the White House believes — correctly — that such an effort is impossible given Republican extremism and the results of the 2010 midterms.

Obama administration officials are therefore left to use their regulatory powers to take incremental steps.

That isn’t to say this is a small improvement. On the contrary, for those affected, it’s a critical breakthrough.

As for the politics, the White House’s move is likely to win praise from Latino voters — a key 2012 constituency — many of whom are already looking at the Republican alternative with warranted disdain.

* edited for clarity

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • c u n d gulag on January 06, 2012 10:43 AM:

    OK - what have you done with our "Bipartisan Obama?"

    Is he in some 'WitLess Relocation Program?"

    I gotta say - I like this new model!
    Smarterer - and fightier!

  • Hedda Peraz on January 06, 2012 10:43 AM:

    We wouldn't need all these immigrants if we elect Santorum and outlaw all birth control. More Americans for America!

  • jcricket on January 06, 2012 10:44 AM:

    Cue the Right Wing Nutjobs to scream that this is setting up an illegal alien voter fraud scenario for November.


  • Vokoban on January 06, 2012 10:54 AM:

    Maybe the fighting Obama comes too late for November.
    Maybe he even doesn't really mean it. Maybe the last weeks will turn out to be a flash in the pan.

    But I sure hope it's just a very good feeling for timing.

    What next? How about suggesting to repeal that absurd law you signed on Dec. 31st, Mr. President?

  • zeitgeist on January 06, 2012 11:03 AM:

    can we start a pool on who will be the first Repub prez candidate to scream "amnesty!" really loud?

  • sick-n-effn-tired. on January 06, 2012 11:08 AM:

    And not to mention , that they will become "taxpayers" instead of working under the table.
    As an ex Canuck , I had to go through the green card experience before becoming a citizen, and believe me the process is something I wouldn't wish on anyone and this was before the Dept of Homeland Security took over.

  • Fess on January 06, 2012 11:10 AM:

    This is great! We had a family locally where the mom had a green card needing extension, drove 2 hours with paperwork to the nearest place where they do that sort of thing, and discovered she needed one more piece of paper she hadn't brought. She never made it back there - they're Samoan, a culture that's just not in a hurry. A few years later her father died back home. She went to his funeral and was refused re-entry. Meanwhile, her two little boys were missing their mom terribly, not to mention her husband. In desperation, the husband contacted our local rep., Issa, who told them they should just all move to Samoa and p*ss off. Nice. It took about 18 months before she could get back to her family.

    Another illegal mom here went back to Mexico for her father's funeral. She crossed back with a coyote straight into a huge wildfire and was badly burned. The rest of the party died. She was found still alive a day later, transported to the burn unit, and died there two days later. Her legal husband and citizen children didn't get to say goodbye. The system as is sucks. Having no option but to pay a coyote sucks.

  • Basilisc on January 06, 2012 11:18 AM:

    Republicans have been working hard to make sure that Latinos are a solid Democratic consituency for the next several decades. Good to see that Democrats are helping the process along.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on January 06, 2012 11:42 AM:

    Boy, Obama is like a crouching tiger, hidden dragon!!! Like they say in that ol' time gospel: "He may not come when you want [h]im, but [h]e'll be there right on time...". (hey, later's always better than never)

    I am really hoping he has more of this wherever it's coming from. It'd be blimey dissapointment if he ran out of mojo by the end of March. And if this is his last year in office, he's looking like he's trying to go out with a mighty big bang...

    You would think that the "family values" GOP would be all over an issue like this--keeping families together. But, alas, thems aliens ain't like us no ways...

  • sacip on January 06, 2012 12:55 PM:

    A lawyer named Chuck Kuck"--Really? I'm guessing a tough childhood!

  • Brendan on January 06, 2012 3:26 PM:

    Nice to look after the undocumented again, I am a LEGAL Permanent Resident Green Card holder who has to apply for a renewal because I worked overseas on US contracts for US companies and even on US bases in Iraq and all that time abroad counted against me and almost cost me my Green Card. It would be nice if someone, ANYONE, would ever take a moment to consider how we Documented Immigrants are treated while the Undocumented Immigrants are taken care of.

  • jjm on January 06, 2012 3:31 PM:

    I am soooo glad Obama is using this election year to stick out his tongue at the 4% approval rating Congress (so low due to the GOP's deciding not to let him govern, a la the dictates of Grover Norquist) and exercising his real authority in order to govern, well and wisely.

    Recess appointments now will last out the election year, and then hopefully we can send many of the 4% approval anti-governing GOP home for good.

  • Crissa on January 06, 2012 5:28 PM:

    It's still a stupid procedure which benefits richer over poorer and doesn't encourage people to follow the law.

    There's no reason for them to leave - they have a place to stay here, and the expense of a trip back abroad doesn't even help the economy here.

    It's stupid.

    PS, Brendan, if you want to complain about undocumented immigrants... Maybe you might be better served by actually pointing at a real policy. As it is, sounds like sour grapes 'those people have it better' rather than 'I get penalized for following the rules - why do people follow the rules again?'