A project of the Center for Community Change

Family Unity Waiver Must be Implemented Fairly to Keep Families Together

The Fair Immigration Reform Movement today urged for the rapid implementation of a proposed rule change that would allow spouses and children of U.S. citizens to stay together in the United States while they wait for decisions on their waivers toward a path to citizenship.

Under current law, undocumented immigrants have to leave the United States and apply for a waiver to lessen the 3-year and 10-year bar they face before they can re-enter the country. Often, the process to obtain a waiver can take months or even years, meaning families have to endure prolonged separations and are exposed to significant hardship.

The Obama Administration has proposed the so-called “family unity waiver,” an important step that would allow some families to stay together while their paperwork is being processed.

“Rapid implementation of the family unity waiver is critical because too many immigrant families are being torn apart by our broken immigration system,” said Javier Valdes, Co-Executive Director of Make the Road NY. “Just yesterday, a newspaper published a story about an Indiana high school student who went back to Mexico to get her visa, and due to the length of the process, she could miss her graduation.  She was needlessly separated from her family, community and school, and could be barred from re-entering the country for 3 years due to a technicality in immigration law.”

Rosalia Quiroz is a U.S. citizen married to Gustavo, an undocumented immigrant. The couple has three U.S. born children together.

“We want to make things right and help him achieve legal status,” Quiroz said. “But in this immigration system there is no way to do it. If I follow the normal process and petition for him as a spouse, Gustavo will have to be separated from his family for 10 years.”

Quiroz’s family is just among the thousands who could benefit from the family unity waiver. The “Promises to Keep” storybook highlights some of the other families facing obstacles toward gaining citizenship. Fernando Mejia, regional organizer for the Alliance for a Just Society, said the storybook puts human faces on this issue. The story book can be found by going to this link: http://fairimmigration.org/share/family-unity-waiver-a-grassroots-toolkit-on-changes-to-the-3-and-10-year-bar/

The people in the storybook are among the thousands who could benefit from the family unity waiver, Mejia said. In April, it was reported that more than one in five people deported in the first six months of 2011 had U.S. citizen children.

“One estimate shows that 5.5 million children in the U.S., about 80 percent who are citizens, have at least one parent without proper documentation,” Mejia said. “Since 2009, the Department of Homeland Security has deported more than 1 million immigrants causing emotional and economic devastation to countless families.”

Angelica Salas, Executive Director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, urged the Administration to implement the family unity waiver, with a few improvements like clarifying the hardship standards to include the financial and emotional impact of family separation.

“The broken immigration system, and its impact on families and children, cannot be fully resolved until Congress enacts comprehensive immigration reform,” Salas said.

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