DENVER – The Obama administration quietly issued a new rule this week designed to ease the pathway to legal status for many of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants by allowing them to sidestep a legal requirement that they apply for a visa in their home country and wait – the same painstaking, time consuming and expensive process that millions of foreigners seeking to legally enter the U.S. each year endure.
Under the terms of the Clinton-era law, illegal aliens must return to their country of origin to apply for a visa, and remain outside the United States for specified period of time before they can legally re-enter the country. That period of time is tied to how long the alien was unlawfully present in the U.S..
But that is slated to change under the new Obama rule, which would allow as many as 1 million illegal aliens to cut to the proverbial front of line in their quest to gain permanent legal residency inside the United States.
Beginning in March, illegal immigrants meeting certain criteria would be permitted to apply for a special “waiver” allowing them return home only to pick up their visa before returning to the U.S. – evading the legal requirement barring their immediate re-entry.
“[I]t will become easier for undocumented immigrants who are immediate relatives of a U.S. citizen to remain in this country while they pursue legal permanent residency,” Elizabeth Llorente of Fox News Latino wrote Wednesday.
“Undocumented immigrants applying for the waiver still must leave the United States at some point to finish the process at a U.S. consular office in the country of their citizenship,” Llorente added. “But now their time outside of the United States is expected to last only days or a few weeks.”
This is the second time in recent months that the Obama administration has courted controversy with executive action on immigration.
In June, the White House directed federal immigration officials to disregard certain provisions of federal law and stop deporting younger illegal immigrants who meet certain criteria. That move — expected to affect some 800,000 illegal aliens – prompted denunciations from many lawmakers, who criticized the move as an end-run around Congress.
“If President Obama wants to do something about illegal immigration then I challenge him to submit a proposal to Congress where it can be debated.” Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) told The Observer at the time.
Advocates for stricter immigration enforcement were equally critical of Wednesday’s announcement.
“I’m not sure why Congress is even needed,” deadpanned former Congressman Tom Tancredo. “The lawmaking process is unnecessary in Obama’s America.”
The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately address the procedural and legal questions raised by critics.
“This final rule facilitates the legal immigration process and reduces the amount of time that U.S. citizens are separated from their immediate relatives who are in the process of obtaining an immigrant visa,” said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano according to a department press release.
President Obama has indicated that he will press Congress to act on a proposal in the coming weeks that would grant legal status to many of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants currently present in the U.S..