White House Immigration Proposal Could Help Thousands

This is what Enrique thought when he first noticed Ramona, a pretty brunette from Mexico, "It was as if I had seen the most beautiful girl in the whole world standing in front of me, and from then on we've been together.

"Its been about 10 years," says Ramona. "And it still feels like the first day."

The couple is now raising four children together in Las Vegas. But things became complicated. Ramona is undocumented. which is why we aren’t using the couples’ last names. Her marriage to Enrique, a U.S. citizen, wasn’t enough to make her legal. All the lawyers told Enrique the same thing.

They told him there is no way to change her legal status in this country. She is going to have to leave.

Leave and go back to Mexico. Indefinitely. She’d have to apply for a green card from the U.S. consulate in in Juarez. She’d face a 3 to 10 year ban from coming back to the United States unless she was granted a hardship waiver-- meaning her American family needed her. But that waiver was not guaranteed--and could take months, even years to process, while she waited in Mexico.

So Ramona put off applying for her green, it was just too risky. Finally she made her appointment, for January, in Juarez.

She says she was nervous and scared, not knowing when she would come back. Still, she packed her bags. She trained a housekeeper to feed her kids and take them to school every day. And then, on Friday January 6th, just days before her flight to Mexico, she happened to turn on the TV.

On the news that night: The Obama administration wants to change the immigration rules so immigrants just like her could stay in the U.S. and apply for the hardship waiver here.

"To me, it is a miracle," she says. "Because I was days from leaving."

Ramona cancelled her trip to Mexico.

Yet, so far there is only a proposal for a new rule and any concrete change will likely take several months. But the change would impact tens of thousands of people. Last year 23,000 immigrants went back to their countries to apply for green cards, and hardship waivers. Many more were likely eligible, but didn’t take the risk.

At Hermanedad Mexicana, a Las Vegas organization that helps immigrants, the proposal has created a buzz.

Janette Amador answers the phones, which she says have been ringing with calls about hardship waivers.

"People have been awaiting a reform for a long time," said Amador, "and they constantly call in to see if any laws have changed, so there is a lot of excitement right now for that."

Immigration reform has long been a top issue for politicians courting Latino voters. It was a campaign promise in 2008 that Presient Obama never delivered. UNLV Political Scientist Ken Fernandez says this latest proposal is a nod to Latinos, though a modest one. "This is a white flag saying hey, we don't want to alienate your group, but again we don't want to be seen, being accused of having amnesty."

The president will need enthusiastic turnout among Latino voters. And while polls show that these voters favor President Obama over Republican candidates, Fernandez says Obama can’t take their support for granted.

"The major concern," said Fernandez, "is that they stay home in 2012 which would have a devastating effect on some very important races, especially in Nevada."

As for Enrique, he’s planning to cast his vote in November for Obama. The president’s proposal may keep his family together.