WASHINGTON D.C. - Filipino American leaders threw their support behind President Obama’s latest initiative to fast track the paper work for undocumented immigrants who have close relatives who are American citizens.
Eduardo Navarra, national chair of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA), welcomed the Obama administration’s recent decision to ease visa requirements for undocumented immigrants.
He said the move would benefit many undocumented immigrants who are caught in visa backlogs "often experiencing the longest wait times of up to 22 years.”
“This commendable action would make it easier for them to apply for permanent residency without going through the harsh restrictions that separate them from their families,” he said.
Navarra blamed bureaucratic barriers for causing long-term separation among undocumented immigrants and their US citizen spouses and children.
"This final rule facilitates the legal immigration process and reduces the amount of time that US citizens are separated from their immediate relatives who are in the process of obtaining an immigrant visa," Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano said.
The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which President Bill Clinton signed in 1996 to deter illegal immigration, requires undocumented immigrants who have overstayed their visa to leave the country while applying for a new one.
Someone who has overstayed a visa for more than six months is barred from reentering the US for three years; those who overstay more than a year are barred for 10 years, under this statute.
But in the case of almost 1.9 million of applicants with close family members from the Philippines, India, Vietnam and China, the wait times are even longer.
"The final rule establishes a process that allows certain individuals to apply for a provisional unlawful presence waiver before they depart the United States to attend immigrant visa interviews in their countries of origin," the DHS explained.
This change would allow people to live in the US while pursuing an immigrant visa, although they would still have to return to their original country to pick up that visa.
“This administration policy prioritizes family unity, something we’ve been advocating with our coalition partners in the Asian American community for years,” Navarra said.
“It complements the White House decision announced last June to stop deporting young people who were brought to the country as children and have contributed productively as law abiding residents.”
Director Alejandro Mayorkas, head of US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), said the change will have "a significant impact on American families by greatly reducing the time family members are separated from those they rely upon."
Last year, the president also announced that DHS would not enforce immigration laws for people who would have qualified for the DREAM Act if it had been passed by Congress.
When the rule was proposed last year, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, faulted the President for unilaterally changing immigration policy without congressional approval.
"This proposal from the Obama administration comes as no surprise considering their abuse of administrative powers," Smith, the House Judiciary Committee chairman in the 112th Congress, said.
"President Obama has already granted backdoor amnesty to potentially millions of illegal immigrants without a vote of Congress. It seems President Obama plays by his own rules to push unpopular policies on the American people."
Smith acknowledged that such waivers have always been obtainable, but the waiver was not designed to be used on a large scale. This new rule could affect up to a million immigrants.
But some FilAm leaders are unfazed. “Preserving family unity through this administrative rule change will go a long way in encouraging eligible immigrants to come out of the shadows and apply for legal status,” Navarra said.
“While this is an important step in fixing our broken immigration system, a major overhaul is long overdue. We call on Congress to give high priority to comprehensive immigration reform this year and once and for all institute policies that are reasonable, fair and humane,” he said.