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Immigration officials to accept public comment on new family visa rule

The Department of Homeland Security is expected to post a new proposed rule for public comment Monday. The new immigration rule as proposed would allow undocumented immigrants who are immediate family members of a legal resident to remain in the U.S. while seeking their own legal status in the country.

U.S. immigration officials say that the proposed rule could affect roughly 1 million undocumented immigrants who wish to seek legal status in the United States. Opening a proposed rule to public comment is one step in the administrative rule making process.

Immigration authorities say that the proposal would reduce the amount of time undocumented immigrants would have to be separated from family members while seeking to obtain a family visa.

Under current immigration law, undocumented immigrants are required to leave the United States to apply for a legal visa, a process that, at times, can take an extended period of time while the family visa application is processed. The current law does allow an undocumented immigrant seeking legal status to apply for a "hardship waiver." The new proposal would make such waivers less necessary.

Commentators say that many undocumented immigrants who have family members living legally in the country avoid seeking legal status under the current family immigration law, fearing that a hardship waiver may be denied during the application process.

The proposed family visa rule would still require an undocumented immigrant to leave the country to complete the process of seeking legal status. The rule, however, would only require the immigrant to leave for a brief period of time, essentially to return to the immigrant's native country to pick up the family visa after it has essentially been approved. Authorities say that the rule would reduce a family's separation to as short as one week, in some cases.

At the federal level, government efforts to enact any kind of immigration law reform have essentially sat with little discussion since the DREAM Act was defeated last December. The Obama administration hopes to have procedures in place under the new family immigration rule by the end of the year.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "Obama proposes new rule for immigrant families," Brian Bennett, Mar. 30, 2012

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