Immigrants closely related to U.S. citizens can now apply for visas from the U.S., according to a rule announced by the Department of Homeland Security, Wednesday. Until now, immigrant parents, children or spouses of American citizens were required to return to their home country to apply for legal status. Because of a separate 1996 law meant to discourage repeat migration to the U.S., immigrants who had overstayed a prior visa can be barred from returning for 3 to 10 years. As a result, many immigrants who could be eligible for legal status through a close family member chose to stay in the U.S. illegally and opt out of the visa process altogether.
Now, family members can seek legal status from the United States, and return to their home countries when a visa is ready, leaving for a few weeks instead of years. The administration says this rule change keeps families together and encourages people who are here illegally to come forward and seek legal recognition. The rule could affect 1 million of the estimated 11 million people in the U.S. illegally.
Is this step a smart way to ensure that families stay together? Or is it a giant loophole that significantly alters immigration policy? And, what role will Congress play, when recent policy changes have all come from the White House?
Angela Maria Kelley, Vice President for Immigration Policy and Advocacy at the Center for American Progress
Jessica M. Vaughan, Director of Policy Studies at the Center for Immigration Studies