New Obama Program Makes it Easier for Citizens to Legalize Undocumented Spouses & Kids


On January 2, 2012, the Department of Homeland Security announced one of the most important regulatory changes in years. Certain undocumented immigrants and others who have accumulated more than six months of unlawful presence in the United States will now be able to apply for a waiver of the 3 and 10 year bars and have the waiver adjudicated before they go abroad to pick up their visas. This will greatly shorten the period of family separation and provide a much higher degree of peace of mind for families. The new program only applies to the spouses, parents, and children of United States citizens.

Under amendments to the immigration law that were passed in 1996, people who accumulated 6 months of unlawful presence in the United States are barred from reentering this country for 3 years after they leave here. Those who accumulate a year of unlawful presence are barred from reentering for 10 years. A waiver for extreme hardship is available, but it is currently adjudicated after the immigrant returns to his or her country of origin. Immigrants currently wait abroad for months while a decision on the waiver that would allow them to come back is adjudicated. In the meanwhile they are separated from their families in the United States and those families often lose the financial support of a breadwinner.

Under the new rule, applicants will still have to return home to get their visas to reenter the United States, but delays will be significantly reduced because they will leave here with their waiver already in hand. Applications for the new program will begin to be accepted in March.

Advocates have long urged the Obama administration to use its regulatory power to cut through the red tape that marginalizes so many immigrants. This new rule is just the latest example of the success of this approach.

Contact CARECEN at 516-489-8330 for more information on this program.

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Patrick Young blogs daily for Long Island Wins. He is the Downstate Advocacy Director of the New York Immigration Coalition and Special Professor of Immigration Law at Hofstra School of Law. He served as the Director of Legal Services and Program at Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN) for three decades before retiring in 2019. Pat is also a student of immigration history and the author of The Immigrants' Civil War.

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