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.

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Who had the longest wait for an immigrant visa this month?

Source: Visa Bulletin for October 2012, U.S. Department of State

Nations with current longest waits for family-sponsored based immigrant visas: The priority dates shown are when applicants now up for processing filed petitions.

October is underway, meaning it's time to see who has had the longest wait for a family-sponsored immigrant visa this month. Twenty years, twenty three years? The line doesn't budge much, at least not for hopeful immigrants in certain categories, from certain countries.

We skipped a month, but the composition of the line is more or less the same: Those waiting longest are the siblings and adult children of U.S. citizens from the Philippines, followed by hopeful immigrants from Mexico. And many of those whose turn has come up this month filed paperwork more than two decades ago.

Here are the four top categories with the longest waits, according to the U.S. State Department's monthly Visa Bulletin for October:

1) Brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens from the Philippines, a wait of more than 23 years (petitions filed February 8, 1989).

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Children of immigrants who 'aged out' of visas can get their place back in line

The now-adult children of immigrant parents who "aged out" of obtaining derivative visas while their parents waited for green cards can get their place back in line, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The decision in the class-action lawsuit against U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and other federal officials is a victory for thousands of young people who lost their priority status for family-sponsored visas upon turning 21, as their parents faced long waits due to backlogs in the immigration system. 

When this happens, these former minor children of immigrants are no longer eligible to derive green cards through their parents, and must start over to seek one on their own. 

The lawsuit argued that several plaintiffs were eligible to retain their priority date for receiving a green card under the Child Status Protection Act of 2002. The plaintiffs had been denied this request by the agency and the Board of Immigration Appeals, however, which interpreted the law differently.

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Waiting to be approved for deferred action? Your notice could be in the mail

Sean Nash/Flickr (Creative Commons-licensed)

If you're one of the many people who applied early on for temporary legal status under deferred action last month, there's a small chance that your approval notice - provided your application was approved - is in the mail.

If so, then you would be in a tiny minority of 29 applicants whose cases have already been adjudicated, but more notices should be on the way soon. Here's what U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced today in a statement:

In the past week, USCIS has completed adjudication of 29 requests and has more than 1600 ready for review.

USCIS is committed to adjudicating requests that fulfill the guidelines of the deferred action for childhood arrivals process consistent with the thorough review USCIS applies to all requests.  All background checks, biometric information and supporting documentation must be completed before a request will be sent to an adjudicator for review.

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A deferred action reality check: How is the process working, who is hesitating, and why?

Deferred Action

Josie Huang/KPCC

Young people attend a recent orientation for hopeful deferred action applicants in Los Angeles.

This week, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that since the application process started Aug. 15, some 72,000 undocumented young people have filed for temporary legal status via deferred action

The program, introduced by the Obama administration in June, provides a temporary reprieve from deportation - but no path to citizenship - for those who meet certain criteria, including that they arrived in the United States as minors under 16, have a clean record, have lived here five consecutive years and were no older than 30 as of June 15.

The first of the responses from USCIS to applicants have reportedly begun tricking out this week; so far, though, local immigrant advocates say no applicants they have worked with directly have received the news.

Other are still in the paperwork-gathering process, or waiting to apply. And some have hesitated. Although 72,000 is a substantial number of applications, some observers have noted it's relatively low given estimates that close to 2 million people could potentially qualify.

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