Proposed Change To Immigration Policy Brings Hope To Families
About 23,000 undocumented immigrants left the country last year to apply for a green card and then a waiver to get back into the United States.
January 26, 2012

Photo by Jude Joffe-Block
Ramona and Enrique's intertwined hands. The proposed change to the waiver application process could spare their family a separation they were dreading.

LAS VEGAS -- So far, Alejandro Mayorkas - the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service -has only announced his intention to propose a regulatory change on this issue. It would not need Congress’ approval, but any concrete change will likely take several months to implement.

The proposal only applies to undocumented immigrants who have a U.S. citizen spouse or parent who is sponsoring their green card application.

Nevertheless, the change would impact tens of thousands of people.

Last year, 23,000 immigrants went back to their countries to ask for green cards, and then applied for waivers to come back. Of those, some 17,000 waivers were granted.

Many more immigrants were likely eligible to apply for a green card, but didn’t take the risk for fear of being denied a waiver while abroad.

At Hermandad Mexicana, a Las Vegas organization that helps immigrants, the proposal has created a buzz. Janette Amador answers the phones, which she says have been ringing with calls about waivers.

“People have been awaiting a reform for a long time, and they constantly call in to see if any laws have changed,” Amador said. “So there is a lot of excitement right now for that.”

Immigration reform has long been a top issue for politicians courting Latino voters. It was a campaign promise in 2008 that President Barack Obama never delivered. The Dream Act, a bill that would create a path to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants who attend college or join the military, has also stalled - though the President voiced his support for the bill in his recent State of the Union address.

University of Nevada, Las Vegas political scientist Ken Fernandez says this latest proposal to help some green card seekers is a nod to Latinos, though a modest one.

“This is a white flag saying: ‘Hey, we don't want to alienate your group, but again we don't want to be seen, being accused of having amnesty,’” Fernandez said. “People are already accusing this fairly modest proposal of being way too radical and approximating amnesty.”

Those criticisms came from pro-enforcement Republicans, like Congressman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), and indicate how polarized the issue of immigration reform is in this Congress.

For his part, President Obama needs enthusiastic turnout among Latino voters to win reelection. But Latinos have been hit disproportionately hard by unemployment and the housing crisis, and their excitement for the president has waned. While polls show that these voters still favor the president over Republican candidates, he can’t take their support for granted.

“The major concern is that they stay home in 2012, which would have a devastating effect on some very important races, especially in Nevada,” Fernandez said.

As for Enrique, he’s planning to cast his vote in November for Obama. After all, his administration's proposal may keep Enrique's family together.