Monday, December 8, 2014

Need for Reform: Keeping Families Together

As I previously explained, President Obama's announcement that he will take executive action, which will result in undocumented immigrants obtaining work authorization will not permanently fix the immigration system.  One of the aims of the president's announcement is to keep families together.  This is certainly an important goal, however, our current immigration laws do little to reach this goal in a reasonable amount of time.

For instance, foreign nationals (immigrants) who marry US citizens are not immediately eligible to come to the US with green cards, as the general public may believe.   In fact, if the marriage takes place abroad, the foreign national must wait outside of the US before getting his green card, in a process that can take up to one year (or more)!   There is a fiance visa, which some apply for, but that process can take approximately 6 months before an immigrant fiance can enter the US.  Even then, the couple must marry within 90 days before the immigrant can apply for his green card, which process can take another 6-10 months depending on where the couple lives.  

Marrying a US citizen while in the US is not an immediate guarantee that a foreign national's green card will be issued immediately either.   For instance, if an immigrant entered the US as a tourist, but immediately gets married and files for his green card, the Immigration Service can charge him with fraud (since he entered the US stating that his intentions were to travel and return home, he committed fraud by lying to the officer, getting married, and filing a green card application). Alternatively, if an immigrant entered without going through the inspection process (crossed the border), she is not eligible to apply for her green card in the US.   Certainly there are exceptions to these rules, but this is the general law for foreign spouses of US citizens.

The rules become even more complex, and wait times longer when the familial relationship involves parents of US citizens and spouses of green card holders.  For example, if a US citizen's parents live abroad, in Canada for example, the US citizen can file an application for his mother and father to become green card holders.  The wait time is the same as for spouse of US citizens (approximately one year).  If the same US citizen has a sibling in Canada who is a minor and cannot be without her parents, the US citizen cannot immediately sponsor his sibling, and the parents have to find a way to come live in the US, while simultaneously caring for their younger child.  Only when the parents become green card holders can they file an application for their younger child.  That application can take up to two years, or more to process, and the child cannot live in the US during that time without valid status (a valid visa).

Similarly, if a green card holder wishes to file an application for his spouse, the spouse must either have a valid visa (valid status), or wait outside of the US while the application is processing.  These applications can also take two years or more to process.

The above examples are for simple relationships, spouses and parents of US citizens, and spouses of green card holders.  However, there is no "simple" way for these families to be together immediately.  The process is long, arduous and often frustrating.  If our country's goal is to keep families together, certainly we can simplify this system through meaningful reforms.

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