Immigration Rule Change Will Help Thousands of American Families

Decision hailed as humane solution to Immigration Catch-22; experts call for extension of changes to all petitioners

1/6/12 BOSTON —Today, the Obama Administration announced an immigration regulatory change that will positively affect thousands of families with U.S. Citizen members. Under the current process, U.S. Citizens who petition for the "green cards" of their undocumented immigrant spouses or children often find their families placed into a Kafkaesque situation. In order to get their green cards, their spouses or children must return to their native countries, but once they leave the U.S., they are barred from returning for three or (more often) ten years. They can apply for a hardship exemption waiver of the three or ten year bar while in their home country, through a process at a U.S. consulate, but this process often takes months or years, during which time they are separated from their families and often face dangerous, even life-threatening, situations. As a result, many people who are otherwise eligible for a family-based petition fail to apply and continue to live in the shadows, on the periphery of our society.


Today's announcement offers a major improvement in the process of obtaining a Family Unity Waiver.The Department of Homeland Security will issue new regulations to allow family members to stay in the United States while their waiver applications are being processed. While family members will still have to leave the country to pick up their "green cards", this new process will allow them to do so with confidence that their waiver application has already been approved, and that they will be able to immediately re-enter the country as Lawful Permanent Residents. Eliminating such uncertainty will go a long way toward ensuring that thousands of immigrants around the country are able to gain legal status and stay with their families without fear.

“Previously, even when people got the legal opportunity to go through the consular process, they knew they took a chance of potentially being separated from their families for years,” said Harvey Kaplan, a partner in the Boston immigration law firm of Kaplan, Friedman & Associates, LLP. “It’s a common dilemma that families find themselves caught in, one we often hear about. The waivers are very unpredictable, so that adds to the whole anxiety of having to leave the country to apply for them. This change will help keep families together and make the process more humane and rational.”

This announcement is the result of months of advocacy and negotiation between the White House and advocacy groups around the country. Immigration advocates praised the administration for introducing the rule change, and asked President Obama to extend it to Legal Permanent Residents who also petition for their spouses and children, since they face the exact same Family Unity Waiver application process.

Immigration experts also stressed that families who might benefit from this change should recognize that the rule will take months for full implementation, and to be wary of predatory, semi-legal agencies promising immediate relief.

"This is a wonderful development for thousands upon thousands of U.S.Citizens and their immigrant relatives," said Eva Millona, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA). "We thank the administration for recognizing the bind that families are caught in, and recognizing the tremendous difference they can make in the lives of thousands by a simple rule change. We hope the White House will soon recognize the sensibility of finishing this process by extending it to all legal petitioners for Family Unity, both U.S. Citizen and Legal Permanent Resident petitioners."

The potential life-and-death seriousness of this rule change will be discussed in a national press briefing sponsored by America's Voice and FIRM:


  • Kelly Alfaro, husband lost an eye to an infection caught in Juarez while waiting for Family Unity Waiver
  • Victoria Ivanova, separated from U.S. Citizen husband for 3 years while waiting for waiver
  • Eleanor Pelta, President, American Immigration Lawyers Association
  • Angelica Salas, Executive Director, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles
  • Douglas Stump, First Vice President, American Immigration Lawyers Association
  • Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director, America’s Voice Education Fund

WHEN: Friday, January 6, 2012 at 2:00 pm EST

WHERE: 1-800-895-0231; Passcode: waiver