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Washington mulls immigration law change that would aid families

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Throughout its history, immigrants have looked to the United States as a beacon of hope and a land of opportunity. Many people are attracted by the promise that their hard work will be rewarded, while others seek to escape the violence of their native countries. There are many heartwarming stories about immigrant families doing well in the United States, but there are also many sad tales about families torn apart and separated by immigration law.

The story of a husband and wife, divided by the United States-Mexico border, illustrates this reality. He was from Mexico and she from war-torn El Salvador. They were living in the United States illegally when she and her two sons from a prior relationship became eligible for visas after the federal government offered amnesty to citizens of El Salvador. She went on to gain U.S. citizenship. But her husband was not eligible for the amnesty program and he eventually ended up back in Tijuana, Mexico, separated from his wife.

Their situation, and those of couples like them, may see improvement in the coming years. Some in the government are currently considering making it easier for illegal immigrants to obtain a visa. At one time, it was relatively easy to get a visa if an immigrant had a parent or spouse who had U.S. citizenship.

But a federal law enacted in 1996 changed that. The law mandated that illegal immigrants applying for a visa would have to return to their native country for an interview with the State Department. The law also required that such visa-seeking immigrants must not enter the United States for up to a decade.

The proposed modification to current immigration law would allow illegal immigrants to seek an "extreme hardship" exception before they have to return to their native country. A successful extreme hardship exception can prevent an immigrant from being excluded from this country.

Source: The Boston Globe, "Separated couple awaits immigration law change," Cristina Silva, Mar. 6, 2012.

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