Obama administration brings undocumented residents relief with new policy changes
DETROIT — Recently the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced changes that will allow the undocumented spouses and children of U.S. citizens who are eligible for a green card to file their applications for family unity in the United States and stay in the country while they are processed.
Ascencio and his family are pictured here with Michigan State Rep. Rashida Tlaib, center.
Photo courtesy of AIR
Francisco Ascencio is an undocumented resident, but his children and wife are U.S. citizens. The first step Ascencio must take to become a U.S. citizen involves being separated from his family for a decade.
This is because Ascencio, who has been an undocumented resident of Michigan for over 13 years, would need to return to Mexico to begin the citizenship process and banned from returning to the United States for 10 years. Waivers to the ban are avaliable, but he would risk going to Mexico to apply for one.
This policy has presented a dilemma to other undocumented immigrants such as Ascencio around the country. The Obama administration's policy changes would allow immigrants to seek the waiver to the 3 or 10-year ban while staying on U.S. soil.
The Ascencio family gathered with advocates from the Arab American, Latino, and legal communities at an ACCESS office to discuss the benefits of the changes.
"Fixing our broken immigration system, particularly curtailing the prolonged separation of families, is especially important to the Asian American community," said Karen K. Narasaki, president and executive director of the Asian American Justice Center and a member of the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice. "Government bureaucracy should not keep families apart, and we believe this proposed common-sense change will benefit many immigrant families and their communities."
The new policy would allow immigrants with families in the U.S. to request a waiver on the ban if they can prove their absence would present an extreme hardship to their families, and this waiver request could now be initiated from the U.S.
"Our immigration policies should prioritize keeping families together. We're very encouraged to see the Obama administration enact this common-sense change to make things easier for the spouses of U.S. citizens," said Nadia Tonova, director of the National Network for Arab American Communities. "While we wait for Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform, we need the administration to do what they can to alleviate the suffering of families who are eligible for some relief."
The proposed policy was published on Jan. 6 in the Federal Register. Luiz Perez, a Mexican immigrant, said he'll benefit from the policy changes. He's lived in the U.S. since he was 8-years-old and is married to an American citizen.
Perez and his wife are the sole caretakers of the wife's three orphaned nephews and nieces. "I am thankful to the Obama administration for recognizing the importance of keeping American families together," said Perez. "As hard as it is to live without a work permit and with the fear of deportation, the prospect of being separated from my family is unbearable." He added that the new changes would do away with the uncertainty that discourages many family members from coming forward and applying for legal residence.
"This is a common-sense processing change," said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum. "As a result, there will be no government bureaucracy standing in the way of keeping American families together, immigrants will be able to get right with the law, and husbands, wives and children will not have to risk their lives to get their lawful visas."