Last week LIRS submitted a formal comment to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in response to a proposed policy change that would make it easier for mixed-status American families to stay together. Currently, when undocumented spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs or green card holders) try to regularize their immigration status, they must decide whether to take the risk to return to their countries of origin to seek a discretionary waiver. If granted, the waiver would allow them to permanently remain in the United States and pursue a path to citizenship. However, if USCIS denies them a waiver, they are barred from returning to the United States.
The proposed rule would help address this Catch-22 situation. Immigrants would be allowed to apply for these waivers in the United States before returning to their home countries for a shorter period. It would make it easier for thousands of families with mixed immigration status to remain together, provide more transparency to the family reunification process, and help encourage immigrants to come out of the shadows to pursue a path to permanence in the United States.
Over the years, LIRS has heard from a number of families who would be helped by this change:
A Lutheran pastor in Wisconsin asked LIRS for guidance about his brother-in-law, Diego, a Mexican immigrant married to a U.S. citizen. As a Christian, Diego struggled with the moral implications of having overstayed his temporary visa. He ultimately decided to return to Mexico to seek an unlawful presence waiver so that he could return to the United States legally. After waiting eight months, USCIS informed him that he would be barred from re-entering the United States for ten years. Only after a lengthy appeals process and the support of Lutheran churches in Wisconsin, the government reversed its decision and allowed Diego return to the United States to be reunited with his wife and daughters. Under the proposed rule, Diego could have remained in the United States with his family while he sought an unlawful presence waiver.
Lutheran Community Services of the Northwest helped to expedite the case of Consuelo, a Mexican immigrant married to a U.S. citizen. While Consuelo returned to Mexico to seek an unlawful presence waiver, her husband stayed in the United States to take care of the family’s restaurant business. During her absence, the husband struggled to run the business without her help. While waiting for her waiver to be adjudicated, Consuelo discovered that she was pregnant and would require special medical treatment. After seven months, USCIS finally approved her application. The proposed rule would help couples like Consuelo and her husband and prevent their prolonged and sometimes dangerous separation.
LIRS joined with other faith-based organizations, immigrants’ rights organizations, and members of Congress in supporting the proposed rule. We also recommended that the government include other priority relatives of U.S. citizens and LPRs who are currently protected under current law and additional due process protections to ensure that the revised policy alleviates hardship for as many American families as possible.
We hope the administration will announce a final rule change later this year that will result in a permanent pathway for more immigrants and their families to be together.
 Names and other details have been changed to protect the families’ confidentiality.