Easier path to permanent residency

President Obama has eased rules for undocumented immigrants to gain legal status. (Los Angeles Times)

President Obama has eased rules for undocumented immigrants to gain legal status. (Los Angeles Times)

By Bert Eljera

LAS VEGAS – In the Year of the Snake, and beyond 2013, it will be easier for Asians and others who are undocumented immigrants to gain permanent residency.

The Obama administration on Wednesday issued a new immigration rule that seeks to reduce the time undocumented immigrants are separated from their American families when applying for a “green card.”

Starting on March 4, the Department of Homeland Security will allow the spouse, child or parent of an illegal immigrant to start a legal status application without leaving the United States.

However, the applicant must show that the separation will create “extreme hardship” on the American family member.

The San Francisco-based Asian Law Caucus, an advocate for Asian-American issues, said it’s a welcomed development.

“Obama’s new path to permanent residency for some undocumented immigrants is a step in the right direction to keep families together,” ALC said in a statement. ” But comprehensive reform is still needed.”

The civil-rights group has decried the Obama administration’s deportation policies that have separated families, including those who have U.S. citizen children.

The Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, a non-profit group working for immigrant and labor rights, among other advocacies, said that the new rule is about “keeping families together.”

It generally supports the move, but like the Asian Law Caucus, it calls for a comprehensive immigration reform for a lasting solution to the problem.

According to the new rule, once the application for legal status is approved, applicants would be required to leave the U.S. briefly in order to return to their native country and pick up their visa.

The new procedures could reduce a family’s time apart to one week in some cases, officials said. In recent years a few relatives of U.S. citizens have been killed in foreign countries while waiting for their applications to be resolved.

“The law is designed to avoid extreme hardship to U.S. citizens, which is precisely what this rule achieves,” said Alejandro Mayorkas, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, in a statement. “The change will have a significant impact on American families by greatly reducing the time family members are separated from those they rely upon,” he said.

The Los Angeles Times reported that many immigrants who might seek legal status do not pursue it out of fear they will be deported.

An illegal immigrant who has overstayed a visa for more than six months is barred from reentering the U.S. for three years; those who overstay more than a year are barred for 10 years.

The new rule allows those relatives to apply for the waiver without first leaving the U.S.

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