The Obama administration put a new rule in place to help shorten the separation of families with undocumented relatives. (Getty Images)

Obama administration immigration order set to soften family separations

A new Obama administration order set to go in effect March 4 would drastically shorten the separation of relatives who have have undocumented family members.

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced that the “final rule” reduces the time U.S. citizens are separated from their immediate relatives (spouse, children and parents), who are in the process of obtaining visas to become lawful permanent residents of the United States under certain circumstances.

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

The rule creates a waiver that bypasses an arcane Catch-22 in immigration law, The New York Times reports.  It had presented Americans with the prospect of being separated for up to a decade from immigrant spouses, children or parents who were applying for the legal documents known as green cards.

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The policy change was actually announced in April 2012, but the USCIS received 4,000 comments on the proposed changes and made revisions before announcing the final rule.

In order to obtain a provisional unlawful presence waiver, the applicant must be an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen, inadmissible only on account of unlawful presence, and demonstrate the denial of the waiver would result in extreme hardship to his or her U.S. citizen spouse or parent, according to a Department of Homeland Security statement.

The rule was put in place after the government received about 23,000 hardship applications in 2011 and more than 70 percent were approved, the Associated Press reported.

Once approved, applicants would be required to leave the U.S. briefly in order to return to their native country and pick up their visa. But where previously some had waited up to ten years, now a family’s time apart could be reduced to one week in some cases.

The change is the latest move by the administration to use its executive powers to revise immigration procedures without Congress passing a law. As the election ramped up in August, the Obama administration announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which halts the deportation of undocumented youth brought to the U.S. unlawfully as children.

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