04/16/2012 09:23 am ET Updated Jun 15, 2012

Why The Family Unity Waiver Matters

Army National Guard Spc. Hector Nunez's wife was brought to the United States when she was six years old, in 2005 she married her husband and they gave birth to a child who was born with medical problems. In 2007, after seeking legal advice and trying to naturalize, Hector's wife was forced to leave the country and return to Mexico, her country of origin. As is often the case in these situations their son, who is an American citizen, left the country with his mother. Nunez's family has fallen victim to an anachronistic immigration rule which continues to separate families who attempt to utilize the available legal channels to change their status. The Obama Administration is taking great pains to fix this despite opposition from the Republican Party.

Members of both political parties can agree that one of the most cherished institutions in all of society is the family. A new rule proposed by the Obama administration is set to defend the families of American citizens. Under the current rule, anyone in the country without documentation longer than 180 days and eligible for legal status must return to their country of origin from 3 to 10 years to apply for a change in status. Ironically, those in mixed status families who are looking to utilize the current legal processes to keep their families together find that even if they are eligible, they still must leave the country for extended periods of time.

The Obama Administration's Family Unity Waiver does not do away with the 3 to 10 year bar, but it would allow those currently here, who meet the necessary criteria, to process their applications in the United States as opposed to having to leave the country. For someone like Veteran U.S. Army Spc Jack Barrios, who recently returned from Iraq with injuries both physical and psychological from his time abroad, and who is also fighting to keep his wife from being deported, this fix could be life changing.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) proposed rule change would reduce a family's time apart to one week in some cases. "The goal is to reduce the time of separation and alleviate the extreme hardship to a United States citizen, as the law currently intends," said Alejandro Mayorkas, director of USCIS. This of course has drawn the ire of Congressional Republicans who accuse the President of going around Congress: "President Obama and his administration are bending long-established rules to grant backdoor amnesty to potentially millions of illegal immigrants," Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said in a statement.

The Republican Party has long said that they are the defenders of families and the importance of legal immigration. Yet in this current debate they are in opposition to both keeping families together and enhancing legal immigration into the country.

Keeping families together should be paramount to all law makers who insist that working families are the back bone of our country. Under the current rule citizens who marry and start a family with an immigrant, risk being separated from their spouse anywhere from 3 to 10 years, even if they are eligible for legal permanent residence. It is worth noting again, that the legislation does not do away with the 3 to 10 year bar; those that do not meet the requirements for the waiver will still have to leave the country. However it does give those who meet the requirements laid out in the new waivers the ability to maintain their families during the immigration process.

When Senator Marco Rubio says that the Republican Party needs to be the party of "legal immigration," this type of common sense tweak to increase legal immigration should be given serious consideration, and not dismissed out of hand. The change in the rule is designed to enhance legal immigration and protect the family unit. Most immigrants with questionable status would rather choose to remain in limbo than work within the current process to pursue legal status. They do not want to be separated from their families. The current rule makes it all but impossible for immigrants to seek legal permanent status.

For those who have lined up in opposition to this simple fix to our confounding immigration system, it would behoove them to think of Hector Nunez and his family. While some, like Congressman Lamar Smith see this as a way for the administration to let in "millions of illegal immigrants," the fact remains the reality of mixed status families is far more complex than our rigid immigration system allows. The Obama administration at the very least recognizes this, while also respecting the rule of law in enforcing the current broken system. Where they can they have worked to support the sanctity of family. While this is not a perfect solution, no matter how small a fix this is, at the end of the day the Family Unity Waiver allows families to stay together. Something the Republican Party would be good to consider.