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/