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Obama rule would let undocumented stay in U.S. during application

January 05, 2012|By Peter Nicholas
  • Rigo Barboza, an undocumented student, protests President Obama's immigration policies outside the Fig & Olive restaurant in West Hollywood in September.
Rigo Barboza, an undocumented student, protests President Obama's… (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles…)

Reporting from Washington — The Obama administration will announce Friday a proposed new regulation that would allow certain undocumented immigrants to remain in America while applying for legal status -- a step aimed at keeping families intact and one that may also shore up the president's support with Latino voters.

As it stands, people living in the U.S. illegally who leave the country to apply for a green card face years of separation from family members.

Depending on how long they've lived in America, once they leave they are barred from returning for up to 10 years.

They can claim that their absence would pose a hardship for their spouse or parent and ask the Department of Homeland Security to waive the re-entry restrictions.

But to do that, they must first travel to a consular office abroad and begin a process that can take months or even years, experts say.

Most waiver applications are filed in Ciudad Juarez on the U.S.-Mexico border, according to the Immigration Policy Center. A State Department travel advisory issued last year said the murder rate in Ciudad Juarez was the highest in Mexico. It urged people to "defer non-essential travel" to that city.

Under the proposed rule, which would not require action by Congress, people would be allowed to file requests for hardship waivers in the United States, according to a person familiar with the administration's plans. They wouldn't need to go abroad, and thus could stay with their families while their requests were adjudicated.

The proposal comes at a moment when President Obama is making greater use of executive power to overcome congressional resistance to his policy goals.

Obama has called for an overhaul of the immigration system that would provide a path to legal status for the 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. But even when the House and Senate were both in Democratic hands, he could not muster the votes needed to pass that plan. The prospects are even weaker now that the House is under Republican control.

So Obama is attempting unilateral steps meant to bring about what he sees as an immigration system that is fairer and less destructive to families.

The proposal is likely to win plaudits from a crucial constituency in the 2012 election: Latinos.

Obama won two-thirds of the Latino vote in 2008, and he needs this fast-growing constituency energized and excited about his reelection.

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