The Obama administration is moving forward with plans to expand a waiver program that will allow additional illegal aliens to remain in the country rather than apply for legal status from abroad.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a proposed rule on Tuesday that would make changes to a waiver program created by President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration in 2013. The action created a waiver that primarily allowed illegal immigrants with a U.S. citizen spouse or parent to stay in the country instead of having to leave the United States and be barred from returning for three or 10 years, if they proved their absence would create an "extreme hardship" for their spouse.
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The new rule expands eligibility to a host of other categories of illegal immigrants beyond those with citizen spouses and parents.
"DHS proposes to expand the class of aliens who may be eligible for a provisional waiver beyond immediate relatives of U.S. citizens to aliens in all statutorily eligible immigrant visa categories," the proposed rule stated. "Such aliens include family-sponsored immigrants, employment-based immigrants, certain special immigrants, and Diversity Visa program selectees, together with their derivative spouses and children."
The waivers allow illegal immigrants to stay in the country while they await visas, and avoid a penalty under U.S. law that bars persons who entered the country illegally from returning for at least three years.
An illegal immigrant who lives in the country for less than a year and then leaves is barred from reentering the United States for three years. Any time spent illegally in the United States over one year results in the illegal immigrant being inadmissible for 10 years. The waiver program allowed individuals to remain in the country and avoid these penalties.
"It’s a very bad policy," said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies. "It makes it possible for illegal aliens to avoid the consequences established by Congress to deter people from settling here illegally and then laundering their status by adjusting to a green card."
Vaughan, who has been following the issue for over two years, said the changes to the waiver program would increase fraud.
"It is a slap in the face to the many legal immigrants who abide by the law, follow the process, and wait their turn," she said. "In addition, it will increase the likelihood of fraud in the marriage categories, which produce tens of thousands of new green cards each year."
"Green cards are the golden ticket. Once you get a green cards you get welfare, you get tax credits, you get entitlements," said a GOP Senate aide. "The U.S. hands out one million green cards every year, and these documents are bankrupting the country."
DHS said it is proposing the rule based on its "broad authority" under the Homeland Security Act of 2002.
The rule would also broaden the category of those whom an illegal alien can claim their absence from the United States would create an "extreme hardship." Previously, the waiver only could be given if the illegal immigrant has a spouse or parent who is an American citizen.
"DHS also proposes to expand who may be considered a qualifying relative for purposes of the extreme hardship determination to include [legal permanent resident] LPR spouses and parents," the proposed rule said.
The agency said the rule is intended to "prioritize the family reunification of immediate relatives of U.S. citizens over other categories of aliens."
"The president should not be issuing executive actions that serve only to expedite the legalization process for those who have ignored our laws," said Vaughan. "This legalization gimmick is undermining the integrity of our legal immigration system, and Congress should take steps to block it."
The public will have 60 days to comment on the proposal.