The Reuniting Families Act

Today, Deepa (SAALT’s Executive Director), Priya  (SAALT’s Policy Director), and I attended a press conference on Capitol Hill where Congressman Michael Honda introduced  the Reuniting Families Act, a bill that advocates hope will become a key component of broader immigration reform in Congress. Leaders from a diverse array of various immigrant and civil rights organizations and faith communities attended the conference to express their support for the bill, including Hilary Shelton from the NAACP, Karen Narasaki from the Asian  American Justice Center (AAJC), Rachel Tiven from Immigration Equality, Lizette Olmos from the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) , and many others. Many members of Congress also appeared and spoke in support of this bill.

Personally, as an intern observing the briefing, it was exciting to see the sheer number of people who appeared at the event (the room was packed, and the crowd of people standing in the back led all the way out the door). But more importantly, it was inspiring to see the breadth of support for the bill, from congressmen, to representatives of numerous organizations, to individuals who have had personal experiences with current family-based immigration policies. Seeing such a wide community of individuals come together for a single cause was really exciting.

So,  what exactly does the bill do?  Speaking on a telephonic briefing with  Congressman Honda after the press conference, Deepa broke down the bill into its major components. The bill will recapture unused visas previously allocated by Congress for currently backlogged applicants.  It also  reclassifies the spouses and children of  green card holders  as “immediate relatives,” allowing them to immediately qualify for a visa  rather than wait for years . Another key component of the bill is its expansion of per – country limits on family and employment-based visas from 7% to 10%.

The speakers at the press conference presented various viewpoints on the importance of the bill.  Congressman Neil Abercrombie  from Hawaii  pointed out that the strength and development of a community starts at the family level. Congressman Honda also noted that the family serves as a critical support system for permanent residents; allowing immigrants to reunite with their families would invariably lead to healthier communities and a stronger local economy, reducing the need for government-based economic assistance programs. Karen Narasaki from AAJC also noted that prolonged separation from loved ones slows down the ability of permanent residents to integrate into American society, in addition to inhibiting their ability to work at their full potential.

A major topic today was the portion of the bill regarding  binational same-sex  couples. The bill includes a comprehensive definition of “families,” including  gay and lesbian couples and their children so that U.S. citizens and green card holders can sponsor their permanent partners living abroad.  Members of Congress and organizational representatives present strongly  supported this aspect of the bill,  emphasizing  that no one should get left behind in the upcoming reform of immigration laws.

So, why does this bill matter for South Asians? Approximately 75% of  the over 2.7 million South Asians in the US were born abroad. Most importantly, individuals from South Asia  are among the top ten countries that rely upon the family-based immigration system  and wait years for green cards. Currently, family members abroad  have two choices: stay within the legal process and wait an unreasonable length of time to be with their loved ones; or enter and remain in the US  through unauthorized channels and keep a low profile. The choice to follow the law should never be a difficult one. When the choice is between waiting to get immigration status and being with the one you love, a change in policies is clearly in order.

Links to Organizations:

  • NAACP: http://www.naacp.org/
  • LULAC: http://www.lulac.org/
  • AAJC: http://www.advancingequality.org/
  • Immigration Equality: http://www.immigrationequality.org/

SAALT Policy Connection (May 2009)

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SAALT Policy Connection  (May 2009)

In This Issue

Immigration Policies

Hate Crimes Legislation Passes House!

Health Care Reform and the South Asian Community

At the Table: Meetings with Policymakers

Community Resource: Race and Recession

Support SAALT!

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) is a national non-profit organization whose mission is to promote the full and equal civic and political participation of South Asians in the United States. SAALT is the coordinating entity of the National Coalition of South Asian Organizations (NCSO), a network of 36 organizations that serve, organize, and advocate on behalf of the South Asian community across the country.

The SAALT Policy Connection is a monthly e-newsletter that focuses on current policy issues. To learn more about SAALT’s policy work, contact us at saalt@saalt.org.

Immigration: Policies from the Administration and Congress

Federal policymakers are continuing to consider immigration policies that will affect South Asian community members. With over 75% of the community born outside of the U.S., South Asians possess a range of immigration statuses, including temporary workers, green card holders, asylum-seekers, dependent visaholders, and undocumented immigrants. Any changes in immigration policies will affect the South Asian community. In order to promote the full integration of South Asians into this country’s economy and society, just and humane immigration reform is necessary.

The Administration:

In recent weeks, the Obama Administration made various statements and instituted several policies relating to immigration:

  • In April, Administration officials stated its commitment to immigration reform, including legalization of nearly 12 million undocumented immigrants during 2009.
  • Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano has stated that DHS will prioritize enforcement raids and prosecutions on abusive employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers. However, worksite raids may still continue which impact the lives of many immigrants working in various sectors of the economy.
  • During a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in early May, DHS Secretary Napolitano stated her commitment to review profiling and searches of electronic devices at the border that have affected many Muslims and South Asians returning from trips abroad, as documented in recent reports by the Asian Law Caucus and Muslim Advocates.
  • DHS has continued and expanded implementation of a troubling enforcement program, “Secure Communities” that would allow immigration status checks be conducted for individuals who are apprehended by local police at the time of arrest. It will also allow immigration authorities to place “detainers” (notification to immigration authorities prior to release from jail that can lead to detention). Such programs raise cause for concern given that checks may done, regardless of guilt or innocence, and further open the door for profiling. For more information about Secure Communities and the negative impact on immigrant communities, check out this factsheet by the National Immigration Law Center.

On June 8, President Obama will be meeting with various members of Congress to discuss immigration and immigrant rights advocates as well as community members will be looking to see what next steps may be decided following the meeting

Congress:

Congress has also recently re-focused its attention on finding solutions to address the broken immigration system:

  • Various Senators, including Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer of New York, and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, have introduced the Reuniting Families Act. This bill strives to reduce family visa backlogs that keep many South Asians separated from loved ones abroad, by reclassifying spouses and children of green card holders as “immediate relatives”, raising per-country visa allocations, and allowing unused visas from previous years to be applied to the backlog. Community members are urged to contact their Senators to encourage them to support this bill.
  • In April and May, Senator Charles Schumer of New York, chair of the Senate Immigration Subcommittee, held hearings on immigration issues focused on border security policies and comprehensive immigration reform.
  • On June 3, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold the first-ever hearing on the Uniting American Families Act (H.R. 1024), which would allow U.S. citizens and green card holders to sponsor their same-sex partners for family-based immigration. This bill would be a vital step towards countering discrimination that exists in the current immigration system against LGTBIQ South Asians in binational couples.
  • The DREAM Act, which would allow certain undocumented students to legalize their status if they attend college or join the military, has been introduced in the House and Senate.

Civil Rights: Hate Crimes Legislation Victory

South Asian community members often confront bias and discrimination in the form of hate crimes as a result of post-9/11 backlash, anti-immigrant sentiment, and xenophobia. In a recent victory in the movement towards preventing hate crimes and protecting its survivors, the House of Representatives passed the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (H.R. 1913) in May. This Act expands current federal hate crimes laws to include violence motivated by gender, gender identity, sexual orientation and disability. It would also provide greater resources to state and local law enforcement investigating and prosecuting hate crimes. The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration and community members are urged to contact your Senators to encourage them to support this bill (S. 909).

Health Care Reform and the South Asian Community

Health care reform has jumped to the top of the agenda for Congress and the Obama Administration. The need for affordable coverage and linguistically and culturally accessible health care is vital for the South Asian community. In fact, approximately 20 percent of South Asians lack health coverage plans leaving affordable health care out of reach for many community members. In addition, linguistic and cultural barriers prevent many limited English proficient South Asians from being able to communicate effectively with health care professionals and obtain emergency assistance when needed. To get a background on health issues affecting South Asians, check out the health section of the National Action Agenda, a policy platform developed by the National Coalition of South Asian Organizations, and a recent piece in SAMAR by Sapna Pandya and Pratik Saha of the South Asian Health Initiative at New York University.

President Obama has urged Congress to enact health care reform before the end of 2009 and convened a White House Forum on Health Care Reform. To learn more about the White House’s commitment to health care reform, visit www.healthreform.gov. The Senate Finance Committee are expected to start working on a health care reform bill in mid-June.

Community Issues at the Table

As part of SAALT’s policy work, we participate in various meetings and briefings with governmental agencies and legislators at the local, state, and federal level to raise issues about policies that affect the South Asian community. During April and May, SAALT participated in the following meetings to convey the concerns of South Asians regarding various policy initiatives:

  • Roundtables with Various Government Agencies during South Asian Summit: Community members and representatives of South Asian organizations had an opportunity to dialogue with various government agencies at the South Asian Summit in late April. Participating agencies included the Departments of Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, and Office on Violence Against Women. During these meetings, participants raised local issues of concern and learned about the agencies’ policy priorities for this year.
  • White House Religious Liaison Meeting: SAALT met with the Religious Liaison at the White House Office of Public Engagement in May to discuss and highlight issues of importance to faith-based communities. SAALT identified issues ranging from discrimination and harassment on the basis of religion to the need for greater funding and support for faith-based institutions at the meeting. For more information, please contact us at saalt@saalt.org.

Community Resource Spotlight: Race and the Recession

A new report from the Applied Research Center, “Race and Recession: How Inequity Rigged the Economy and How to Change the Rules” tells the stories of people of color who are disproportionately affected by the recession. It uncovers root causes of long-term racial inequrities that fed into the economic crisis and proposes structural solutions to change a system that threatens future generations. Read the report online and check out the “Race and Recession” video to learn more and take action.

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South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to fostering full and equal participation by South Asians in all aspects of American civic and political life through a social justice framework that includes advocacy, coalition-building, community education, and leadership development.

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)