How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

New rules aim to end visa seekers' long family separations

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esus Alcazar/AFP/Getty Images

A Mexican soldier controls traffic at the Mexico-U.S. border customs post in Ciudad Juarez. Over the years, many undocumented immigrants from Mexico have been stuck in Juarez long-term after traveling there from the U.S. to apply for permission to return legally.

Starting March 4th, thousands of undocumented immigrants with U.S. citizen relatives will be able to apply for legal residency here under a new administrative rule introduced Wednesday. It’s part of the Obama administration's effort to promote immigration reform.

The new rule applies to individuals who have accrued more than six months of unlawful presence while in the United States. In the past that would have made them ineligible to return to this country if they left to obtain an immigrant visa.

Soon they may apply for a waiver that allows them to return. Typically, it can take months   or years for undocumented spouses or children to legally reunite. 

The rule change will allow certain undocumented immigrants to apply for a provisional unlawful presence waiver before they depart the United States, letting them know before they go whether they qualify, and preventing extended separations from loved ones.