Washington - U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) applauded the Obama Administration's actions today to keep families together by allowing immigrant family members of U.S. citizens to apply for family unity waivers in the U.S. In a notice in the Federal Register, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services announced it will publish new procedures which will allow husbands, wives and children of U.S. citizens to remain here with their families and spend only a short time in Ciudad Juarez or at another U.S. consulate abroad for their final visa interview and to obtain their lawful permanent resident status.

"A common sense change like this-- literally in where a government form is processed- means a world of difference to immigrant families," said Menendez, who, along with his colleagues in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, had advocated for the change for the past year. "Small children should not have to be separated from their mothers and fathers. Wives and husbands should be able to stay together while they petition the government for lawful status. Government bureaucracy should not get in the way of American families sticking together. I am hopeful that the Administration will broaden this simple fix to also include the relatives of lawful permanent residents."

Currently, U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents face unnecessary and dangerous bureaucratic hurdles in obtaining lawful permanent resident status for their spouse or child. They have to file a visa petition, and once the petition is approved and the visa appointment scheduled, the spouse or child must travel to a U.S. consulate in their home country to be interviewed. Any needed waiver must be applied for while the applicant is waiting in the home country, and the decision on the waiver often takes weeks, months or even more than a year to be completed. Meanwhile, families are separated and spouses and children are forced to wait in potentially dangerous situations until a waiver decision is made and then can complete their visa processing and return to the U.S. with their lawful permanent resident document ("green card").

Menendez pointed to the story of Vidal Tapia of Paterson New Jersey as an example of the importance of the policy change. Vidal, who was valedictorian of his high school class with a 4.0 GPA, has to travel to Ciudad Juarez to get his family visa and would have to wait in Mexico for months while he tries to prove 'extreme hardship' to his family due to the separation. He would risk permanently being separated from his mother and other close relatives, just to process his visa. With this change, Vidal could apply for the 'extreme hardship' waiver while still in the U.S. and he would know whether he qualified before leaving the U.S. That would remove the guessing game and remove much of the fear from the process.