A better way to legalize status for immigrants

Although Congress has failed to approve even the most modest proposals to fix the country's dysfunctional immigration system, the Obama administration has managed to make some improvements. Take, for example, a new rule unveiled Wednesday by the Department of Homeland Security that will reduce the amount of time that undocumented immigrants who are the children and spouses of U.S. citizens must spend outside the country while they legalize their status.

Currently, undocumented immigrants who qualify for a visa because they are an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen must return to their homelands to claim it. But once they leave the United States, they trigger automatic penalties that can bar them from returning for as long as 10 years. Those who can demonstrate that this will cause extreme hardship to their relative in the United States can apply for waivers, but these can often take months, if not years, to process. In the meantime, most families must live apart.

Under the new rule, those same immigrants will no longer face an impossible choice: leave the United States and risk prolonged separation from loved ones or remain in this country illegally. Instead, the spouses and children of U.S. citizens will be able to apply for the special waiver here so that they can go to their home countries to pick up the visa without the risk of getting stuck there.

It's a modest yet much-needed change that promises to restore some common sense and humanity to a capricious process that has only served to discourage immigrants from stepping forward to legalize their status. The White House has acted judiciously to streamline the process in order to help keep American families together.

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