Immigration chief: Proposed change is not amnesty

Kitty Felde/KPCC

Alejandro Mayorkas, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

The federal government plans to change the rules to make it easier for some undocumented relatives of U.S. citizens to stay in this country. The nation’s top immigration official insists this is not amnesty.

Under current law, the undocumented spouse or children of a U.S. citizen can apply for what’s called a “601 waiver.” It grants permission to stay in the U.S. due to a hardship, such as an undocumented spouse providing medical care.

But the applicant had to leave the country first, then wait outside the U.S. for a hearing. The proposed new rule would allow those people to wait in the U.S.

Conservative critics label the change “amnesty.” Not so, says Alejandro Mayorkas, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. "All we are doing is making the process more efficient and more effective."

The rule does not allow undocumented immigrants to use their U.S.-born children as an "anchor" that would allow them to stay in the U.S. Only children and spouses are eligible.

Mayorkas says few people have applied for the waiver because, if they’re turned down, they could be barred from re-entering the U.S. for up to 10 years. "The risk of separation is so dramatic, people who might be eligible do not take the risk of leaving the country and applying."

He also warned of "notario fraud": immigration lawyers who are scamming immigrants by telling them the proposed rule is already in effect.

The new "stay 'til you’re scheduled" rule could be in place by the end of this year.

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