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/