President Obama issued a rule yesterday through the Department of Homeland Security to put illegal immigrants who have United States citizens in their immediate families on the fast track to permanent legal status.

“This final rule facilitates the legal immigration process and reduces the amount of time that U.S. citizens are separated from their immediate relatives who are in the process of obtaining an immigrant visa,” DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a statement.

The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which Bill Clinton signed in 1996 in order to deter illegal immigration, requires illegal immigrants who have overstayed their visa to leave the country while applying for a new one. “Someone who has overstayed a visa for more than six months is barred from reentering the U.S. for three years; those who overstay more than a year are barred for 10 years,” the Los Angeles Times explained yesterday.

“The final rule establishes a process that allows certain individuals to apply for a provisional unlawful presence waiver before they depart the United States to attend immigrant visa interviews in their countries of origin,” DHS explained. This change would allow people to live in the United States while pursuing an immigrant visa, although they would still have to return to their original country to pick up that visa.

“The change will have a significant impact on American families by greatly reducing the time family members are separated from those they rely upon,” United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement.

Even if the policy could have bipartisan support, the unilateral nature of the maneuver could complicate negotiations over changing immigration law.

“If Obama continues to force his preferred policies on the country without discussion or legislation, and simply on the basis of his personal agenda, he is unlikely to find willing partners when it comes time for significant immigration action,” a Senate Republican aide told The Washington Examiner.

Last year, the president also announced that DHS would not enforce immigration laws for people who would have qualified for the DREAM Act if it had been passed by Congress.

When the rule was proposed last year, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, faulted Obama for unilaterally changing immigration policy without congressional approval.

“This proposal from the Obama administration comes with no surprise considering their abuse of administrative powers,” Smith, the House Judiciary Committee chairman in the 112th Congress, said in a January statement. “President Obama has already granted backdoor amnesty to potentially millions of illegal immigrants without a vote of Congress. It seems President Obama plays by his own rules to push unpopular policies on the American people.”

Smith acknowledged that such waivers have always been obtainable, but the waiver was not designed to be used on a large scale. The Los Angeles Times says this new rule could affect up to 1 million people, adding that “sources said that the administration might expand the changes to include relatives of lawful permanent residents.”