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Policy Change To Ease Green Card Process For Undocumented Spouses Of U.S. Citizens

January 7, 2013 1:11 p.m.


Jacob Sapochnick, a San Diego immigration attorney

Raquel Coronado and Yance Nunez, a married couple who will be affected by the policy change.

Related Story: Policy Change To Ease Green Card Process For Undocumented Spouses Of U.S. Citizens


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: A change in immigration rules and regulations that may seem minor to most Americans is likely to have a major impact on tens of thousands of families across the nation. The new regulation takes effect this March will make it easier for undocumented spouses and children of US citizens to wait for green cards here in the US rather than back in their home country. The policy is designed to help keep families together while the often long process of documentation is completed. Joining us to help explain why the change makes a big difference for some San Diego families are my guests Jacob is a San Diego immigration attorney and Jacob welcome to the show.

JACOB SAPOCHNICK: Thank you Maureen pleasure to be here.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And the couple that is going through the process to apply for a green card Raquel Coronado and Yance Nuñez. Thank you to you both for coming in.

BOTH: Thank you, Maureen

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me start with you, Jacob, before we start about the policy will do for people let's break it down what it is and how it applies to. Before this change when the US is an American undocumented alien, one procedure did they have to go through for a spouse to get a green card?

JACOB SAPOCHNICK: Sure, Mari, so until the change typically undocumented person would start by filing a marriage petition I 130 inside the US. They go through several steps in the process. At the end of the process they are required to leave and go to attend the US Embassy interview at their home country. At the end of the interview if the person was undocumented they would spend more than one year in the US, they are barred for 10 years and they would be ineligible for a waiver to be able to come back to the US. The flavors were available at the end of the process once they've already left. They're basically subject to likely. Time. Of absence from the US being separated from their families and change now will allow them to file for the waiver inside the US before leaving. So hopefully by the time they leaf and attend their appointment at the US Embassy the maybe only there for a few weeks.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How long did it take to actually if you are approved for a hardship waiver in your own country, you apply to the US for a hardship waiver, how long did it take to get the waiver approved while you had to be in a foreign country?

JACOB SAPOCHNICK: Sure, this actually very son depending where you are from. In fact Mexico is one of the countries that actually implemented a pilot program. In their case the waivers were pretty fast. A question of a few months. But in most countries across the world you are looking at almost a year or more to be able to get an approval. Therefore families were separated more than a year, sometimes even a couple of years.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We're not even talking about waiting to get the green card itself, that in and of itself is going to be years, is that correct?

JACOB SAPOCHNICK: It depends if it is an immediate family member in the waiver is approved then it is less than a year.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Less than a year

JACOB SAPOCHNICK: The issue is less in many countries aside from Mexico the people were staying. Sometimes a couple of years waiting for a decision and the changes happening right now are actually very effective.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Just to reiterate what you said with a change goes into place in March when people will be able to do is apply here, not in a foreign country, but here for a hardship waiver.

JACOB SAPOCHNICK: Write it depends what stage of the process they are at but the idea is to be able to file the waiver in the US, get it approved it at that point they still need to leave the confusion that people have is that publicity on this is they think they are not going to need to leave anymore and that is not a correct statement. They still have to leave to attend interview but this time with an approved waiver in and hopefully shortening the amount of time they have to way overseas.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: great because they can apply for the green card overseas but they already have the hardship waiver in and that allows us to do most of the waiting for the green card in the US.

JACOB SAPOCHNICK: Correct and the very important part is the waiver only way slipping and that's illegal entry and overstay of more than a year if a person has a criminal record or reentered if they have any other issues, fraud, they're not going to be saved by the way for the soul of the way over there so it's very important to understand the implications before leaving.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: who is eligible to take advantage of the change?

JACOB SAPOCHNICK: Currently the waiver applies to immediate relatives and quantifying relative by law is a spouse, US citizen spouse and a US citizen parent. Now there is already a waiver that existed in past years and that waiver allowing also legal permanent residents to be able to file this this applies to US citizen spouses and US citizen parents.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: anybody who has a legal permanent resident has to go about it the old way. Okay let me get to Raquel Coronado and Yance Nuñez let me get them into the conversation if you could give us a little bit of the background for instance how long have you been married?

RAQUEL CORONADO: We've been married about six years now.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: and you have a child

RAQUEL CORONADO: We have two kids.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And you brought one of them with you today. You are a US citizen, Yance? Raquel how long have you been in the country?

RAQUEL CORONADO: I've been here two years, approximately my sons age, as a child.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: now you see you are in the military


MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Recently back from Afghanistan?


MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You are applying for a waiver place for military families what is that.

YANCE NUNEZ: Parole in place that we are currently in the process of applying for it is a waiver that we put in

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It is pretty similar to what would be the change coming up in late March, right?

JACOB SAPOCHNICK: Actually the parole in place actually change that came about a year ago specifically applicable to military families and what it is is allows the families to file for application in the US. If they can justify reason why the military person requires the waiver to take place in the US. If the parole in place is approved, it would allow the foreign national not to leave the US and finish it here. But it's very limited and will only be applicable to military families and that's why it was not such widespread use.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Tell us, Yance, if you would, because I think it is your situation would apply in general to a lot of families whether they are in the military or not the military here in San Diego. Why would it be a hardship for retail to go to Ciudad Juárez and apply for a green card and wait to see if she could get a hardship waiver?

YANCE NUNEZ: First about the military we are separated all the time from spouses and families. So, this would separation from employment, field training exercises, and having to do with another separation, is going to be extremely hard for me especially having kids because I don't want her to take the kids with her, especially to Juarez Mexico because that's a pretty dangerous place as we all know. And for an undetermined amount of time which is going to be pretty devastating for me and I'm going to be working and stressed out about their well-being and that type of stuff.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I completely understand what you are saying to me and retail, from your point of view what would be the hardship of having to leave the country and go to Ciudad Juárez to apply for a green card and then apply to see whether or not you could get a waiver for hardship?

RAQUEL CORONADO: I think the most important aspect here, in this situation now are my kids. Ian suffers from eczema and asthma and he has to be seen monthly by a doctor and my daughter, she's healthy, so we don't have no problem. But it would be hard for me because I don't know what type of healthcare with my son be given you know, overseas.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And would you have any ability to have your children cared for here in the US?

RAQUEL CORONADO: Family wise, no one is willing to relocate. We have limited family that are willing. To go. But not as far as moving you know, to where we are currently stationed at. And I guess in order for our kids to be seen, they are seen by a military doctor, so it's kind of hard for the kids to be taken care of and especially taken care of in a military facility.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yance, is it certain that you're going to be getting the military waiver, the parole in place that allows retail to wait here for a green card?

YANCE NUNEZ: It's not guaranteed, no.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: so how do you see the change in civilian law, do you think that might wind up helping you?

YANCE NUNEZ: If the parole in place doesn't work we will definitely fall back on the 601A. And we will go forward with that one and put it on least amount of time possible for Raquel to be gone.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Jean of others sued families that are in a similar situation to you, Yance.

RAQUEL CORONADO: Actually I have one of my friends who did this, she experienced it without a lawyer. They actually went to war as commander experience was not the best experience that they told us. So we are currently doing whatever we can in order not to because, they put their kids through it and I think that was the most hard thing that I ever had to listen to. So we're looking to take care of our could send take care of my husband because of his job because it requires so much of him he's not willing, it's not that he's not willing to, it's just that he cannot give the love and care and attention

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Jacob you probably know this you probably know this better than you see in retail, are there many San Diego families in a similar situation?

JACOB SAPOCHNICK: Absolutely we get e-mails and calls almost daily from people that are in the same situation but after speaking with them we determine that many of them are not going to qualify either because they reentered before and the waiver is not going to help them or because there's a criminal issue that's not, that is preventing them from doing so. Where people are not understanding what the waiver is about so there's a lot of misconceptions, a lot of publicity that is actually not accurate out there.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I would imagine that this actually would sort of inspire a lot of people in a similar situation who are undocumented here married to a US citizen to see this as an opportunity to apply for a green card where in the past he really was sort of impossible for them to do that.

JACOB SAPOCHNICK: And when name announced about a year ago there's a lot of people is that I've been waiting for this so many years, can we doing now? I was waiting explaining that we have to wait for this to become effective is not a role in the sense that Congress pass something is something this administration decided to do which is very positive but I agree with you that a lot of people are coming out right now saying we want to do this, we want to fix our situation because life is not easy without Social Security, without a work permit and I was thinking you are going to loose your wife or husband.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: the basically to legalize immigration status it gives people just a little bit more of an opportunity to make that possible for them to do it.

JACOB SAPOCHNICK: Because they know they're going to have to leave the US and nobody knows what's going to happen, the fact that the waiver is approved doesn't mean they're going to get the visa in another day but they feel confident leaving with the hope that the counselor will give them a visa if everything else as well.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Jacob you make a very important point, this is a policy change, not a change in immigration law. Does that make a difference in the way it is being received? In other words, this could conceivably be changed is another administration came into

JACOB SAPOCHNICK: Absolutely. In fact there is a positive and negative issue because a lot of people are against immigration saying that we feel that our president is using the law as he pleases. But at the same time the people who are about to benefit from this field. Courage that this administration is pro-immigration and it may be the beginning of other changes because at some point if someone entered the US more than once that they are eligible for the legislature and their meeting waiting for new legislation to fix it is also I'm positive that this is something that is going to be helping.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This change in the deferred action policy the Obama administration announced last year that allows many undocumented people to get relief from possible deportation, that also is a policy change. It's not a lot. So do you expect to see more administration policy changes like this, which some people claim are sort of circumventing Congress?

JACOB SAPOCHNICK: We are hoping that there will be more genes that will be directly affecting people that need to get help. The problem is that since we never had immigration reform in the past you know, 15 years it's almost like something that needs to happen naturally. And if Congress is not going to act in somebody else has to take the helm and resolve it and we feel that by taking the steps people will become part of the society developing and becoming productive members of society perhaps they will encourage Congress to pass a permanent reform?

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: how much discretion does the president have in making the changes to immigration policy?

JACOB SAPOCHNICK: He does have discretion. There are some things that he may or may not do but it's a combined effort. But I do believe he has the power to create some temporary forces and changes and he did it with deferred action. Nobody expected this to happen but they do have, the issue is whether it's going to become permanent and that's what people are concerned about. Because if they're going to come out of the shadows and expose themselves, guarantees they will be able to benefit from this and four or five years.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: to expect soon, or in the foreseeable futureanother policy change that would encompass people who are married to people who are here, who are permanent legal residence with green cards, would you see a change in hardship waiver policy for that as well?

JACOB SAPOCHNICK: We are hoping so. Nothing has been announced yet but we feel this is going to add more doctors, at more qualified people that can become part of this.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: so let me ask you, Raquel and Jan C, what are your plans when you do get if indeed you do get the waiver in place the parole in place what's going to happen then? Raquel?

RAQUEL CORONADO: Many aspirations including completing my school, my college and actually my husband has been looking at community college in Colorado where he is currently stationed. He's the one that's always motivating me and there sometimes where I'm like I'm tired and I don't know if I can do this he's the one that's always encouraging.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Have you guys been afraid that there would be some day that perhaps recount wasn't going to come home because there would be some sort of sleep

YANCE NUNEZ: Every day we think about it. It's like a constant part in our heads what if immigration comes and deported what's going to happen with my kids, with our lives, it will take about everything. That we have built. And it is in our everyday thoughts and it's really hard to go through.

RAQUEL CORONADO: We've been together for seven years and there's not been a day that we don't think about the process that we've been. Right now we're at the point where we just arenpraying and hope fully everything works out for the better. He has a saying, hope for what it is you are saying?

YANCE NUNEZ: Expect the best, hope for the worst

RAQUEL CORONADO: He always said that when he was deployed, and always kept me up on my feet when he was gone.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: expect the worst, hope for the best.

YANCE NUNEZ: Right, that's it

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: it sounds to me Jacob that not only is this a very nuanced legal issue it's very emotional for a lot of people.

JACOB SAPOCHNICK: In fact I find those claims to be very courageous because just coming out of the shadows and exposing yourself to something that is totally unknown every day we find in our practice clients that are courageous in different ways just because they came forward just because they wanted to change their life and they are not afraid anymore to take a step and in a way I feel that it brings more power to us the attorneys were doing the cases because we work together as a team and see people and we cannot imagine living the same life always been afraid to come out to your wife or husband and I think this is very inspiring some of the areas of law that I feel not only are calling in doing this but also it's very emotional.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay well this change that we've been talking about goes into effect at the end of March and you can find out more about it by checking out our website. I believe we're linking to some articles. I've been speaking with an attorney Jacob Sapochnick and Raquel Coronado and Yance Nuñez thank you all of you for coming here.

JACOB SAPOCHNICK: Thank you Maureen, pleasure.