Jan. 2, 2013 NEWS RELEASE — LIRS Welcomes Final DHS Policy Change to Protect American Families

Press Contact: Jon Pattee
202-591-5778, jpattee@lirs.org

WASHINGTON, DC Jan. 2, 2013 – Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) is heartened by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)’s announcement today of a final rule that promises to reduce the separation of families by encouraging some undocumented immigrant parents, children, and spouses to come out of the shadows to permanently reunify with their U.S. citizen family members.

“Though the United States still desperately needs a comprehensive overhaul of our immigration laws, this policy change is a positive step to protect American families,” said Brittney Nystrom, LIRS Director for Advocacy. “This rule eliminates one hurdle facing thousands of families with mixed immigration status seeking to remain together. It also provides more transparency to the family reunification process.”

However, because the rule will apply only to immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, LIRS will continue to call for equity and fairness in the treatment of all immigrant families.

“It is our firm belief that family members of those who possess green cards, meaning lawful permanent residents, should be allowed to remain with their families in the United States as the government processes their waiver applications,” said Nystrom.

While many people wait overseas for years or even decades for a family-based visa to become available, some are already living in the United States, working and contributing to their communities. Under the current policy, when a family-based immigration slot opens, undocumented immigrants have to return to their country of origin to complete the process. To be able to return to the United States, they must obtain a waiver. However, they risk long periods of separation during processing and the chance of being barred from returning to the United States for up to 10 years if the waiver is denied. As a result, many immigrants forego the entire process for fear of long-term separation from their families.

Today’s processing change will enable undocumented immigrants with a U.S. citizen spouse, parent, or adult child to interview for a provisional waiver while inside the United States. If found eligible for the waiver, they would then return to their home country for final processing.

“The current policy forces eligible individuals to remain in the shadows for fear of extended separation from their families,” said Nystrom.  “Though the new policy does not apply to immigrants with family members who hold lawful permanent resident status, also known as green card holders, we are pleased that the Department of Homeland Security has pledged to consider expanding the waiver.  Family unity is a fundamental value and all families yearn to be permanently reunited with their loved ones.”

LIRS has called on the Obama Administration to make this change since 2011, joining with bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and other faith-based, ethnic, and immigrant rights groups. Members of Congress, including the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, representatives Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), Michael Honda (D-CA) and Judy Chu (D-CA) and senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) also submitted public comments.

LIRS is nationally recognized for its leadership advocating on behalf of refugees, asylum seekers, unaccompanied children, immigrants in detention, families fractured by migration and other vulnerable populations, and for providing services to migrants through over 60 grassroots legal and social service partners across the United States.