Extended Families Would Fare Poorly in New Immigration Law

Extended Families Would Fare Poorly in New Immigration Law

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As business leaders roundly cheered a sweeping immigration proposal released last week by the Senate’s “Gang of Eight,” civil rights organizations voiced concerns about the limitations the new bill would impose on extended family reunification.

The broad-reaching bill — termed “clearly a compromise” by President Barack Obama, who nevertheless expressed his support for the proposal – would significantly increase the numbers of all employment-based visas, whilst narrowing the availability of family-based visas by tightening the definition of who is eligible. Significantly, the measure also creates a long pathway to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million undocumented residents.

The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus praised the bill, but also objected to the elimination of the two family-based visa categories, which currently allow U.S. citizens to sponsor the brothers and sisters and married children over 30.

Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif., co-chair of CAPAC’s immigration task force, praised the measure for adding more visas in employment-based visa categories — including higher caps on H-1B visas and foreign students with advanced U.S. degrees in STEM fields – but noted that families must remain at the cornerstone of new immigration legislation.

“The family is the basic unit of our society, and strong immigrant families start businesses, create jobs, and contribute to our nation’s social and economic fabric,” said Honda, who introduced the “Reuniting Families Act” in the House earlier this year.

"In recent weeks, I have spoken with members of the Senate and House bipartisan working groups, and I will continue working with them to ensure that siblings and married adult children of U.S. citizens will have the ability to reunite with their loved ones in the new and improved merit-based system proposed by the Senate Gang of Eight,” Honda told India-West in an e-mail.

The “Gang of Eight” senators who created the proposed measure include Republican Sens. John McCain from Arizona; Jeff Flake from Arizona; Lindsey Graham from North Carolina; and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., the Republicans’ shepherd on immigration issues. Democrats include Michael Bennet from Colorado; Dick Durbin from Illinois; Chuck Schumer from New York; and Robert Menendez from New Jersey.

Graham hinted last month that extended families of U.S. citizens might lose out in the new immigration proposal. “Green cards are economic engines for the country," said Graham, as reported by the Associated Press. "This is not a family court we're dealing with here. We're dealing about an economic need."

“Right now you get green cards to adult children, to grandparents. What I want to do is reserve green cards based on the economic needs of the country, and we’ll do something for families. But the goal for me is to replace a chained migration immigration system with an economic-based immigration system,” he stated.

The National Council for Asian Pacific Americans, a coalition of 30 Asian American organizations chaired by Indian American Deepa Iyer, praised the proposed measure for its attempts to clear backlogs in the visa processing system, but denounced the elimination of the F-3 and F-4 visa categories.

NCAPA noted that the F-4 category – which allows U.S. citizens to sponsor their brothers and sisters – would be eliminated. U.S. citizens would also not be allowed to sponsor their married children over 30, with the elimination of the F-3 visa category. However, the definition of “immediate family relative” would be expanded to clear the backlog in the current visa system, which has created wait times of more than 15 years from certain applicants from India and the Philippines.

Parents of U.S. citizens will also be classified as immediate family members, eliminating long wait times for the elderly to be reunited with their children and grandchildren.

Approximately 1.8 million Asians are trapped in the family visa backlog, noted NCAPA in a press statement.

The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund also criticized the measure for eliminating the F-3 and F-4 visa categories.

“The bill actively undermines the family-based immigration system by stripping U.S. citizens of their ability to sponsor their siblings and children over 30 years old,” said Margaret Fung, executive director of AALDEF, in a press statement.

“This unjustifiable and purely political compromise divides families. These categories must be restored and this bill must immediately provide additional visas to clear the entire backlog that has separated families, including same-sex couples, for years,” stated Fung.

AALDEF praised the measure for creating a landmark pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented people. However, it took aim at the 13 year wait-time for citizenship.

The proposed legislation creates a quick path to legalization for undocumented immigrants, who would immediately become “registered provisional immigrants” 180 days after a bill is passed. RPIs would be allowed to work and travel abroad, and could apply for a green card after 10 years. Undocumented children who were brought to the U.S. would be fast-tracked through the system and would be eligible for a green card in five years.

RPIs could become eligible for citizenship after 13 years, provided that the government had met Congress-mandated goals on border control and employer verification.

AALDEF described this portion of the measure as “a very long and narrow process for those who have already long been subject to the abuses of a broken immigration system,” and added that with stricter border control, provisions must be added to include humane treatment for unlawful detainees.

"In the coming months, we are committed to working together to make sure that just and humane immigration reform protects the rights of all Americans, both native born and immigrants," said Bethany Li, staff attorney at AALDEF.

Business advocates, however, hailed the legislation for its aim to add highly-skilled employees to the American workforce. “To lead the world in this new economy, we need the most talented and hardest-working people,” Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg wrote in an op-ed for the Washington Post. “We need to train and attract the best,” he said.

“Why do we kick out more than 40 percent of math and science graduate students who are not U.S. citizens after paying to educate them?” Zuckerberg queried. “Why do we offer so few H-1B visas for talented specialists that the supply runs out within days of becoming available each year, even though we know each of these jobs will create two or three more American jobs in return?”

“Why don't we let entrepreneurs move here even when they have what it takes to start new companies that will create even more jobs?” stated Zuckerberg, who along with several Silicon Valley-based business leaders, has launched the immigration Web site Fwd.us.