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Immigration Rule Change Could Keep OR Families Together

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 By Chris ThomasContact
January 9, 2012

SALEM, Ore. - It's a relatively small change but, for Oregon's immigrant community, it represents a big step to keep families together as their immigration issues are resolved. A new immigration regulation will allow some people to remain in the United States who typically have had to return to their home countries to apply for a visa or to get what is called a "family unity waiver." Either decision can take months.

Portland attorney Stephen Manning of the Immigrant Law Group says it affects at least 200 families his firm is working with right now. He describes one of them:

"Nice family, good family, good people. He needs to get his immigrant visa to get right with the law and, under the old system, he's probably going to be outside the country for at least 18 months. With two kids in elementary school, it's just not a good deal."

The new rule will apply only to spouses and children of people who are already American citizens. Francisco Lopez, executive director of the immigrants' rights group Causa, hopes it will be expanded to include others in similar situations.

"Not just U.S. citizens that are petitioning for family members, but also green card holders, people with permanent resident status. But also, we want to make sure that this is a good beginning to continue the conversation about a legalization program."

Lopez notes the rule change means that people applying for visas and family unity waivers can stay home while they wait for their U.S. Consulate hearings to be scheduled, and then leave the country for a few days instead of months. The rule change will minimize the time family members are separated, but not prevent it, adds Manning.

"The process is still the same. It's just a change in the timing, so it's where you're going to have to spend the time. So, it's not an amnesty. People should not be tricked into thinking it's amnesty, you know; if you're made promises that sound too good to be true, they're probably too good to be true."

Manning says the current system has meant a lot of expense and stress, particularly for parents when one has to leave for an extended time period. He points out that the Department of Homeland Security rule change is not in effect yet and could take up to a year to become final.

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