President Obama moved to repair relations with a crucial voting bloc and opened another battle with Republican lawmakers by easing rules on the politically volatile issue of illegal immigration.
His proposal will probably affect tens of thousands—perhaps more than 100,000—illegal residents. It would end a requirement that undocumented immigrants with parents or spouses in the United States leave the country first if they wish to file paperwork that would forestall deportation on the grounds of family hardship.
Without the so-called hardship waiver, illegal immigrants are barred from reentering the U.S. for up to 10 years. The existing rule often means that people seeking waivers must separate from their families for months or in some cases years while their applications are processed.
Under the new rule, which does not require congressional approval, immigrants would be allowed to stay in the U.S. and apply for a waiver, which can be granted if deporting an immigrant would cause undue hardship to his or her U.S. family. Once waivers are granted, immigrants may apply for green cards. They would still have to leave the U.S. to make those applications, but because they would have hardship waivers in hand, they would be very likely to gain readmission to the country.
About 23,000 immigrants annually use the existing system. Many travel to Ciudad Juarez just over the border from El Paso—and one of Mexico’s most dangerous cities—to file their applications and often are stuck there for extended periods. Administration officials expect many more people to apply for waivers once such trips are unnecessary.
Latino groups, many of which have been highly critical of Obama for failing to move aggressively on immigration issues, were delighted. The administration’s move is a “sensible and compassionate proposal [that] helps bring much-needed sanity to an often senseless process,” said Janet Murguia, president and chief executive of the National Council of La Raza, which describes itself as the nation’s largest Latino civil rights and advocacy group.