On Three Kings day, a gift for immigrants

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On Three Kings day, a gift for immigrants

Posted on Fri, Jan. 06, 2012

On Three Kings day, a gift for immigrants

Fabiola Santiago

fsantiago@MiamiHerald.com

On Friday, the Day of the Epiphany, when Hispanics celebrate El día de los Reyes Magos, the “Wise man” in Washington, D.C., delivered a gift to some of the nation’s undocumented immigrants.

The Obama administration, which has carried out a record number of detentions and deportations of people whose only crime was to enter the country illegally, will make a small but meaningful change in immigration policy.

The administration will allow the undocumented spouse and children of U.S. citizens to remain in this country while their applications for residency are under review.

Until now, the policy in effect was dubbed in Spanish “ la ley del castigo,” the law of punishment, because it punished people who came into the country illegally even if they had an American spouse and children and a good shot at residency, sending them back home to process their petitions.

In effect, the policy separated American families from three to 10 years while the government’s slow-moving process, which entails heaps of paperwork moving through various agencies and several interviews, wound its way through the system.

Under the new rules, the undocumented can request waivers to stay in the country while their case for legal residency is under review. They would still have to travel abroad for an interview with a consul and to obtain a visa to re-enter legally, but that process would now only take days, or at most weeks.

It’s only a small window, but the move means immigrant families can stay together through the long bureaucratic process.

“This policy shift has the potential to help a lot of people – not just those without legal status, but many U.S. citizens, including children,” says Susana Barciela, policy director for the Miami-based Americans for Immigrant Justice. “We hope the regulatory process is completed as soon as possible. Under current policy, people eligible to legalize often must choose between staying in the shadows or risking years being separated from their family. That’s cruel, inhumane and counter to bedrock family values.”

The policy change affects all immigrant families — hundreds of thousands of American citizens are believed to be eligible to benefit from this more humanitarian path to legal status for their relatives — not just Hispanics. But the change is particularly significant in Florida, where President Barack Obama needs the key Hispanic vote to win re-election.

It’s no secret that Obama’s Hispanic supporters have been disappointed in the president’s performance on immigration issues. Obama promised not only to secure borders but to reform the immigration system and to use his discretionary powers to carve a humanitarian path for deserving undocumented immigrants to gain citizenship.

Instead he has, at best, looked the other way, and at his worst, he has tried to look just as tough on immigration issues as his Republican opponents.

A wise man wouldn’t neglect this fact: Obama got 70 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2008, yet according to some polls, only 40 some percent say they’d vote for him now.

In a perfect world, the motivation in formulating sensible immigration policy would be humanitarian and the engine driving the rules would be the belief that the industrious energy immigrants bring with them elevate this country. It would come from recognition that from changing the bed sheets of the sick to picking the fields in Florida, Alabama and Georgia, immigrants toil at jobs that for the most part native-born Americans don’t want. It would come from recognition that immigrants are driven to succeed, and that the most enterprising in their ranks save their pennies, acquire know-how, and become entrepreneurs who fuel the growth of small business USA.

But regardless of the administration’s motivation, for good people living in the dark, any move to bring them into the light is welcome, and if only for that, this Three Kings Day will be one to remember come November.

 

 

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