For President Obama — who has called the inability to achieve comprehensive immigration reform among the biggest regrets of his first term — the new policy is among a series of steps his administration has taken over the past year aimed in part at easing the pace of deportations, which have surged during his tenure. Many of the steps came amid a presidential campaign that included sharp disagreements over immigration policy and strong support among Latinos and Asians for Obama.
The centerpiece was Obama’s decision, announced last June, to stop deporting people who were brought to the country as children and have gone on to be productive and otherwise law-abiding residents.
“He is checking off every administrative box he can of what he can do with executive authority that comports with his overall view of immigration policy,” said Angela Kelley, an analyst at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank allied with the White House.
The latest policy change is focused on illegal immigrants who have a spouse, parent or child with U.S. citizenship. Currently, in order to become legal they must leave the United States and apply for a waiver forgiving their unlawful presence in the country. Only then can they apply for an immigrant visa. And if they don’t get a waiver, they are barred from returning to the United States for up to 10 years, depending on the case.
The specter of being barred deterred many from applying. But under the rule change finalized Wednesday, those who qualify will be able to apply for waivers from within the United States starting March 4. Applicants must return to their native country for a brief period for the consular immigrant visa process.
The new rule greatly reduces the risk inherent in applying for a waiver, as people whose applications are rejected would still be in the United States when they heard the news. Even for those whose applications are approved, the new rule will allow them to spend much less time outside the United States, as they will travel abroad with waivers in hand.
Michelle Escobar, 38, a U.S. citizen who lives in Laurel, said her husband, German, 33, plans to apply for a waiver under the new rule. Until now, she said, he had been afraid to go to his native El Salvador to apply.
“He would be barred for 10 years, probably,” said Escobar, a state investigator. “That’s why we’ve been so scared to put in for it.”