The Obama Administration has announced another significant reset of national deportation law that could allow hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to apply for legal residency without leaving the country.
It was another use of the president's executive power, analysts say, to soften the ground for major legislative immigration reforms ahead.
The new policy applies to immigrants who are spouses, parents or children of U. S. citizens and would otherwise face long family separations under the previous process of applying for residency.
Maria Rodriguez, the executive director of Miami's Florida Immigrant Coalition, said the new rule should also apply even when the family member is merely a legal resident, but she welcomed the change. "It's hard enough to keep a family together without having to endure the bureaucratic beast of immigration," Rodriguez said.
"This small change is moving in the direction of making sure we value families and that we keep families together."
Rodriguez could not estimate the number of immigrants in South Florida who could take advantage of the new policy. It would apply only to those who are subject to deportation only because of their illegal presence in the country and it would not affect any existing deportation orders. According to the Washington Post, the rule change could certainly tame that bureaucratic beast:
Currently, immigrants who are spouses, parents and children of U.S. citizens but who do not have legal status must leave the country, often for years, and apply for an immigrant visa abroad.
To qualify under the new rule, an applicant must be inadmissible only on account of his or her unlawful presence in the United States and must demonstrate that being separated from family would mean “extreme hardship” for his or her U.S. citizen close relative.
Applicants must still leave the United States for a brief period for the consular immigrant visa process; however, they will be able to apply for a provisional waiver before departing for an immigrant visa interview abroad.
The President is seen to be continuing his use of executive power to address criticisms of what many saw as an overly aggressive deportation policy during his first term. The executive strategy began last summer when he announced the end of deportations for law-abiding people who had been brought to the U. S. as children.
It continued with an announcement that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office would focus its enforcement and detention efforts on immigrant with criminal records.
During the election campaign, President Obama said his inability to achieve comprehensive immigration reform is among the biggest regrets of his first term.