By: Maria M. Odom
Today, the Obama administration and the leadership at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) took a meaningful step to ameliorate the pain suffered by U.S. citizens and their immigrant family members. The government announced a new policy that would allow some eligible immigrants to stay in the U.S. while applying for their legal permanent residency.
For many years, I have encountered numerous good citizens who are surprised to learn that certain spouses and children of U.S. citizens cannot easily attain legal status. Many in our communities do not realize that immediate family members of U.S. citizens often have to travel abroad and face long and painful separation from their families in order to acquire an immigrant visa to return home.
In my law practice, I saw families not only separated for extended periods of time, but often fall into extreme poverty due to the delayed absence of a breadwinning parent. I saw U.S. citizens’ spouses and children suffer from hunger and facing illness while a foreign national parent waited helplessly abroad. I saw women and children evicted from their homes because they could no longer afford the rent. I witnessed despair and suffering among spouses that longed to be together and yet were separated (often for years) while a waiver request was pending before USCIS. Our network of charitable immigration programs sees this suffering every single day.
Today, we are reminded that our nation's immigration policies can and should protect the family. There is a way! While some states strive to cause fear, chaos and promote attrition through enforcement, today U.S. citizens and their families can breathe a little easier. By allowing the pre-adjudication of waivers of inadmissibility for prior unlawful presence, this administration has given U.S. citizens and their families the gift of hope and, most importantly, access to a reasonable process that will allow thousands to come out of the shadows, legalize and, together with their U.S. citizen parent or spouse, be a part of the fabric of this nation.
*Ms. Odom is the Executive Director of CLINIC