Congress? Laws? … Who needs ‘em?

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration eased the way Wednesday for illegal immigrants who are immediate relatives of American citizens to apply for permanent residency, a change that could affect as many as 1 million of the estimated 11 million immigrants unlawfully in the U.S.

A new rule issued by the Department of Homeland Security aims to reduce the time illegal immigrants are separated from their American families while seeking legal status, immigration officials said.

Beginning March 4, when the changes go into effect, illegal immigrants who can demonstrate that time apart from an American spouse, child or parent would create “extreme hardship,” can start the application process for a legal visa without leaving the U.S.

Once approved, applicants would be required to leave the U.S. briefly in order to return to their native country and pick up their visa.

The change is the latest move by the administration to use its executive powers to revise immigration procedures without Congress passing a law. In August, the Obama administration launched a program to halt the deportation of young people brought to the U.S. unlawfully as children.