A move to streamline bureaucracy without lowering standards.
The Obama administration's new push to take unnecessary heartache out of the pathway to legacy residency for eligible immigrants -- otherwise known as getting a green card -- is welcome news.
An adjustment in the waiver process means that many children, spouses and other family members will no longer face years of cruel separation while pursuing permanent residency in the United States.
This move doesn't water down U.S. immigration policy or make it any easier to obtain green cards. Rather, it merely updates an archaic bureaucratic process for handling applicants in a cost-efficient and humanitarian way.
While the adjustment won't make a dent in the large-scale immigration reform this country needs, it's a common-sense step. It will make a significant difference to thousands of American families whose loved ones are caught in a bureaucratic nightmare that sometimes puts their lives at risk.
The change will apply only to people who are in the country illegally with relatives who are U.S. citizens. People with criminal backgrounds aren't eligible.
Under current law, most applicants are forced to leave their families and return to their countries of origin and wait to receive a visa. That puts them in a Catch-22 situation because the law forbids them from returning to the United States in many cases for three to 10 years. In cases in which visas are denied, they can never return.
As Star Tribune columnist Jon Tevlin reported in November, Raul Garzon of Maplewood was forced to leave his wife and young son to wait for his visa in Mexico. Soon after he left, his wife discovered she was pregnant. Garzon wasn't allowed to reenter the country for the birth of his daughter, who died shortly afterward.
Given the risks, it's understandable that many eligible immigrants refuse to apply for legal status. Who would want to leave their children, spouses or aging parents, not knowing if they'd be reunited? In some cases, people are forced to return to violent areas of the world where their lives are in danger.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services grants waivers in some cases where separating families would cause "extreme hardship," such as an undue financial burden. Last year, an estimated 17,000 of the 23,000 applicants were granted waivers through what is often a long and expensive nightmare.
Under the new plan, the government will make a decision on waivers before applicants return to their country of origin to proceed with the visa process. That means they will have to spend less time living in limbo apart from their families.
Republicans are crying foul, calling the change "back-door amnesty." This is nonsense. As John Keller of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota explained: "It's not amnesty. It's not going to allow people to do things that the law previously didn't allow them to do. It's about government bureaucracy being trimmed."
Because immigration law isn't being changed, no act of Congress is required. The Obama administration hopes the new process can be put into play by the end of the year.
If that happens, it will go a long way toward ending a harsh practice that can tear families apart for years.
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