Last week, President Obama announced a change in U.S. immigration enforcement policy designed to limit long periods of separation within families where at least one member is undocumented. Currently, undocumented individuals either married to or the parents of U.S. citizens, must leave the country and wait for between three and ten years before they can apply for legal residency. These individuals do have the option of applying to waive this waiting period, but must leave the country in order to do so, often for a period of months. Now, Obama has announced that he will make it so that these immigrants can apply for the waiver while still in the U.S., limiting the time they are separated from their families.
Since the passage of SB1070 in Arizona, many undocumented individuals have voluntarily deported themselves, separating themselves from family members, authorized to be in this country. Afraid of being detained and deported, these individuals are choosing to leave the U.S. of their own free will, many hoping to eventually seek legal ways to return. Thus, this recently announced change could be a critical one in preserving the unity of many families in this state, who could now apply for legal residency without first being forced to return to their sending countries.
However, since Obama’s announcement, a chorus of voices has chimed in criticizing the proposed change as largely inconsequential and potentially even dangerous for this country’s undocumented population.
In an article in the Texas Tribune, writer Julian Aguilar outlines the various criticisms made against the waiver policy change. First, he points out that the change is likely only to affect a miniscule portion of the nation’s undocumented population. This is because only those married to or parents of U.S. citizens would be eligible for the expedited waiver.
Secondly, the Department of Homeland Security will still have the ability to deny waiver requests for any immigrant deemed inadmissable, most notably those with criminal records. As with last year’s announcement that the DHS would temporarily halt deportation proceedings against some low-priority cases, however, it is unclear what level of criminal behavior would result in one’s waiver request being denied.
Finally, and most importantly, it is unclear exactly what should happen to an immigrant who makes a waiver request, which is then denied. Will these individuals be automatically subject to deportation proceedings? If so, it may be dangerous for undocumented individuals to even attempt legalizing their residency in this country.
Immigration advocates are largely choosing to look optimistically at Obama’s announcement as a step in the right direction and a necessary move towards preserving family unity among the U.S. undocumented population. However, most agree that it falls far short of the true comprehensive immigration reform this country needs.