Prior to the rule change announced Monday, illegal immigrants who return to their country of origin to apply for a visa would be barred from returning stateside for a number of years. The new policy allows those illegal immigrants who are immediate relatives of U.S. citizens to apply for a waiver and remain in the U.S. if they can demonstrate time apart from their family would amount to an “extreme hardship.”
The change to the rule was initially proposed in April. Since then, local attorney Rudy Cardenas has been reviewing his caseload to identify which clients may stand to benefit from the rule change.
“The Obama administration thought this is B.S. and was hurting families,” Cardenas said, referring to the time an illegal immigrant would be barred from returning to the U.S. while seeking legal status.
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He said a “pretty good chunk” — about 25 — of his clients could benefit.
“A lot of attorneys would say (to clients), don’t go,” Cardenas said of an immigrant’s desire to go to Juarez, Mexico, to start the visa application process. “That’s what I’ve been telling my clients — to wait.”
The waivers have become easier to come by in the past few years than prior, Cardenas said.
“They’re becoming more lenient,” he said.
The federal government will begin taking applications for hardship waivers on March 4. Once approved, applicants would still have to return to their native country to pick up their visas but would face a possible absence of a week rather than months or years.
In the past few years, between 22,000 and 25,000 immigrants have applied for these hardship waivers, with 88 percent of applicants receiving a waiver, KPBS reported.
Although he isn’t in a position to benefit from the recent rule change, Timothy, who asked that his full name not be used, spent a considerable amount of time and money trying to get a hardship waiver approved for his Mexican wife.
The woman he is now married to previously attempted to enter the U.S. without proper documents and was prohibited from entering the states for five years. The two would meet for the first time some time later in Mexicali, after which a relationship developed and the two decided to get married.
A pair of children would soon follow. His wife and children lived in Mexicali while he was in the Valley.
Eventually, her attempt to secure a nonimmigrant visa for a spouse would take four years. During this time an initial attempt to get a hardship waiver was denied.
Rather than initially agreeing that their separation constituted a hardship, U.S. immigration officials told Timothy that perhaps he should consider moving to Mexico.
By the end of the whole ordeal, he estimates he spent about $10,000 on fees and lawyers. During their separation he also sent his wife another $10,000 for financial support.
“I don’t see how that is not a hardship,” Timothy said.
Staff Writer, Copy Editor Julio Morales can be reached at 760-337-3415 or at firstname.lastname@example.org