Over the last year, two Obama administration reforms have allowed a growing number of young undocumented immigrants to stay in the US. Immigrants are just starting to take advantage of the latest change, the so-called “provisional waiver” policy unveiled right after New Year’s. It changed the process for issuing green cards to unlawful immigrants with immediate family members who are US citizens.
Previously, an immigrant would have to wait months or years in his home country while his application was processed. Under the new policy, up to a million undocumented people can stay with their families while waiting for approval.
That is welcome news for 26-year-old Blanca Olivas. She is an undocumented Mexican whose family brought her to Los Angeles when she was four. Her husband is a US citizen, so she hopes to get a green card.
“It’s a big relief if all this happens," she says. "We’ll have two incomes coming in, mainly I’ll get a job, go to school. We’ll be normal, you know?”
Olivas is taking advantage of the provisional waiver program to stay with her husband during the application process. And just to cover her bases, she will also be making use of President Obama’s other big initiative: Deferred Action, or DACA. That allows undocumented immigrants under 30 without a criminal record to stay and work in the US for periods of two years at a time.
Olivas’s lawyer Joseph Weiner of pro-bono law firm, Public Counsel, says applying for the two programs could cost her upwards of $1,000. But he says it’s worth doing both, since only the provisional waiver will lead to a green card.
“The good thing with those fees is that it leads to permanent legal status," says Weiner. "Whereas DACA is temporary; it’s every two years. And in terms of the cost involved in each process, maybe spending that money on a permanent solution would be better than doing DACA and then doing this afterwards.”
The US Citizenship and Immigration Services says almost 400,000 young undocumented immigrants have applied for Deferred Action nationwide since last August. Officials will start processing provisional waiver applications in March.
They expect applications for both programs to rise exponentially, and some local lawyers say they’re hearing from a lot of young immigrants who are eager to apply to both.