US Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano [official profile] announced a new rule [text] Wednesday which will make easier for undocumented immigrants to become citizens if they have an immediate relative who is an American citizen. Under existing law [press release], immediate relatives of US citizens who have been in the US illegally for more than six months must leave the US, obtain an immigrant visa abroad and obtain a waiver to overcome the bar on unlawful presence admissibility before they can return to the US. Under the new rule, immediate relatives must still leave the US but can apply for a provisional waiver before they depart. The goal of the new rule is to reduce the amount of time US citizens are separated from their immediate relatives and could affect as many as one million [LAT report] of the 11 million immigrants who are currently in the US unlawfully.
Immigration law [JURIST backgrounder] has been a controversial issue over the past several years, and the announcement of the new rule on Wednesday is the latest effort by the Obama administration to affect immigration policy through executive directives. In October 2012 Mississippi joined [JURIST report] a lawsuit challenging a policy directive [DHS memorandum, PDF; JURIST report] announced by the Obama administration that instructs immigration enforcement agencies not to enforce deportation laws against certain young people who were brought to the US as children but never became citizens. Shortly after the Obama administration announced this rule, Iowa Congressman Steve King [official website] issued a statement [JURIST report] indicating his plans to sue the administration in order to delay implementation of the policy, and Arizona Congressman Ben Quayle introduced a bill [JURIST report] to block enforcement of the policy. Additionally, a number of states have passed restrictive immigration laws [JURIST backgrounder] over the past several years, which give local authorities more autonomy to regulate immigration. However many of these laws have been partially blocked by federal courts, including those in Arizona, Alabama and Georgia [JURIST reports].