Can I obtain residency in the U.S. if I did not comply with a voluntary departure order?

In my column this week in La Opinión I answer questions from readers. These are general answers. Each case is different, so you should consult an attorney for personalized legal advice.

Here is the question and answer for this week's column:

I am Colombian. I entered the United States undocumented in 2000 at the age of 21. In the past I was accused of having sexual relations with a 15-year-old girl. I was in jail while awaiting trial, but was released because the judge dismissed the case. I was transferred to ICE custody and brought before an immigration judge. Then I married a U.S. citizen. We have two children born here. I applied for asylum and my wife also filed a family petition. In 2003, the judge denied my asylum case and granted voluntary departure for me to return to Colombia to apply for my permanent residency through my wife. I never left.

I have heard that they have changed the law of punishment to allow people like me to ask for a pardon in the U.S. Is this true? - Jorge G.

The federal government recently announced that it plans to modify the waiver process for undocumented immediate relatives (parents, spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21) of U.S. citizens. Under the new proposal, these family members who are applying for permanent residence would be able to apply for a waiver of the penalty law and find out if they will be approved before leaving the U.S. to apply for an immigrant visa to their home country. The relative cannot have any other misdemeanors that would make him/her inadmissible to immigrate to the US.

The government has yet to write the proposal and seek public input. It is not known how and when it will go into effect. Therefore, I cannot give you guidance about regulations that have not yet been written and entered into force.

Under current law, you can be fined up to $5,000 and be ineligible for a period of 10 years for many types of immigration benefits, including applying for permanent residence in the U.S. for failure to leave when ordered to do so by the judge. The immigration court retains jurisdiction of your case and you should consult with an immigration attorney to evaluate your legal options.