DEARBORN, Mich. - Francisco Ascencio would like to join his family as a true citizen of the United States. His wife is a citizen. His three children are citizens. But in order for Ascencio to legally pursue citizenship, he risks being separated from his family for up to 10 years.
This is because Ascencio, who has been an undocumented resident of Michigan for over 13 years, would need to return to Mexico to begin the citizenship process. Yet, returning to Mexico would set in motion a series of events that could separate him from his family for months or many years.
However there is now hope for Ascencio. This past Friday, the Obama administration announced rule changes in immigration policy that would allow undocumented immigrants to seek a hardship waiver while staying in the United States. It would enable spouses and children of U.S. citizens to stay together in the United States while family members work to gain permanent U.S. residency.
On the day of the announcement, in Dearborn at the offices of ACCESS - an Arab American human services nonprofit organization - the Ascencio family and other immigrant rights advocates hailed the proposed changes.
"Our immigration policies should prioritize keeping families together. We're very encouraged to see the Obama administration enact this common-sense change to make things easier for the spouses of U.S. Citizens," said Nadia Tonova, director of the National Network for Arab American Communities, "While we wait for Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform, we need the administration to do what they can to alleviate the suffering of families who are eligible for some relief."
The Alliance for Immigration Rights and Reform Michigan (AIR) says the new policy would allow immigrants with families in the U.S. to initiate the waiver request from U.S. soil and be granted a waiver if they can prove their absence would present an extreme hardship to their families. In a press release the organization says this change shows "the administration's commitment to aiding families in staying together, raising children in dual-parent households, and maintaining financial freedom without leaning on the state for support." Ascencio has worked, paid taxes and financially supported his family.
AIR spokesman Jonathon Contreras said many undocumented immigrants have been fearful of applying for a waiver knowing they could be in for a long family separation. He said he recently spoke to a young woman who returned to Mexico thinking she would be there only for hours but remained there for eleven months before her waiver was granted.
Contreras emphasized the change is not an amnesty program as a hardship waiver must still be requested and granted. Importantly however, the proposed changes allow the family to remain intact during the process. Upwards of 300,000 people and their families could benefit.
He said before the proposed changes become law, there will be a 30 to 60 day period for public comments.
Photo: The Ascencio family, Detroit Democratic State Rep Rashida Tlaib and Robert Birach of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Photo provided by the Alliance for Immigrant Rights and Reform.