The Obama administration announced recently that it would make it easier for illegal immigrants who are related to a U.S. citizen to seek legal U.S. residency. Currently, an illegal immigrant must apply for and receive a legal visa from his or her country of origin to rejoin a spouse or child in the U.S., a process that can take years. The administration will modify that rule to enable the immigrant to remain in the U.S. for much of the process. The change is likely to go into effect later this year, administration officials said.
The proposal would allow spouses and children of U.S. citizens to stay in the United States while the government decides whether to issue a waiver, significantly shortening the time families are separated. The waivers are granted to immigrants without criminal records who can prove that their absence would cause “extreme hardship” for their U.S. citizen spouse or parent. Last year, 23,000 people applied, and 17,000 were granted.
The Applied Research Center’s report, Shattered Families, found that there were over 5000 children living in foster care who are prevented from uniting with their detained or deported parents. The report recommends that federal, state and local governments create explicit policies that protect families from separation and stop the clock on the child welfare process and the immigration enforcement process to ensure that families can stay together and allow parents to make the best decisions for the care and custody of their children.