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Preserve family reunification immigration provisions, urge desis

March 20, 2013 14:29 IST

Perturbed by inside information that the United States senate’s bipartisan ‘Gang of Eight’ who have introduced comprehensive immigration reform --that is strongly backed by President Obama -- have decided to drop the family reunification provisions of current immigration law, the House Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus have written to each one of the these senators and the senate leadership expressing deep concern over this proposed action.

Meanwhile, Dr Joy Cherian, founder and former president of the Indian American Forum for Political Education -- the oldest Indian American political organistion -- exhorted the Indian American community to rise up and again strongly lobby against this alleged blind-sided action by these Senators. This body led the successful fight in the early 1980s when these family reunification provisions were similarly threatened by the then Simpson-Mazzoli legislation.

In their missive to the ‘Gang of Eight’, which is led by former Republican presidential nominee Senator John McCain of Arizona, CAPAC urged that the family reunification immigration provisions be preserved. “We are particularly concerned about proposals to eliminate the ability for US citizens to sponsor their brothers and sisters and married adult children for legal permanent resident,” it said.

The CAPAC members, who include Dr Ami Bera, the only Indian American Democrat from California and Tulsi Gabbard, Hawaii Democrat and the only Hindu American in the US House of Representatives, pointed out that “visa sponsorships for siblings and married children make up less than nine per cent of the annual total immigration to the US.”

Thus, they argued, “Eliminating these categories would produce only a small reduction in visas, while creating greater hardship for thousands of US citizens and their loved ones, many of whom have been caught in lengthy backlogs that keep families separated for decades.”

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, they noted, “are disproportionately impacted by family immigration backlogs, and of the 4.3 million in line, 1.8 million are of Asian or Pacific Islander origin.”

“The Philippines, Vietnam, India, China, Pakistan, South Korea and Bangladesh rank among the top 10 countries with the largest number of siblings and married children awaiting immigration visas,” they added.

Congresswoman Judy Chu, California Democrat and CAPAC chair, said,  “Keeping families together has been a cornerstone of our immigration policy for decades.” She said eliminating the family reunification categories was “simply unacceptable.”

“Rather than restricting pathways for legal immigration or redefining our concept of families, we must make family unity a priority for any immigration reform package.”

Representative Mike Honda, also a California Democrat and the chairman emeritus of CAPAC and its immigration task force co-chair, said,  “We cannot allow our family immigration system to be compromised -- the line in the sand is drawn here.”

“Eliminating the ability for US citizens to sponsor their siblings and married adult children for legal permanent residence would cause tremendous hardship and heartache for thousands of US citizens and their loved ones,” he said. “A drastic change to our family immigration system ignores the historical social and economic contributions of immigrant families, as well as lengthy visa backlog that keep families separated for decades.”

Honda said, “Immigrants come to the US with the hope of a better life for their families and themselves. Comprehensive immigration reform must preserve family sponsorship as the cornerstone of our immigration system.”

Bera told rediff.com,  “American immigration laws must reflect both our interests and our values by keeping our country safe, helping our economy grow, and staying true to the foundation our country was built on.”

“Family immigration laws have always helped families coming to the US combine their resources to open businesses, create American jobs, and educate their American children to make us competitive in a 21st century economy,” he added.

Bera pointed out, “In my district, for example, these policies can help high-tech companies like Intel find and keep the highly-skilled American workers they need. A thoughtful, family-based immigration system is not only the right thing to do, it’s a critical part of growing our economy.”

Gabbard, echoing similar sentiments, said,  “We must address family reunification within the context of comprehensive immigration reform,” and noted, “ in Hawaii, our communities are disproportionately affected by our outdated immigration laws. Many of our families can wait up to 24 years to be reunited with family members from the Philippines, for instance.” She said, “By bringing our families together, we can strengthen our communities and our economy.”

Congresswoman Grace Meng, a New York Democrat, who represents the state’s 6th District, which has a large South Asian constituency, said, “While I am encouraged by the national discussion our country is having about comprehensive immigration reform, I have great concerns about the threat to US citizens no longer being able to sponsor their family members for legal permanent residence. I urge senators involved in negotiations to keep our family-based immigration system in place.”

Congressman Eni Faleomavaega, American Samoa Democrat, and immigration task force co-chair as well as the ranking Democrat on the house foreign affairs subcommittee on Asian and the Pacific, which has jurisdiction over matters pertaining to South Asia, said,  “Currently, the visa backlog creates up to a 20-year wait for immigrants to reunite with close family members.  The senate should be considering ways to clear the visa backlog instead of eliminating these family-based categories altogether.”

“The ability to bring family members to the United States is a key component for employers looking to attract the best and brightest talent from around the world.  By eliminating the ability for US citizens to sponsor their siblings or their married adult children, many talented immigrants will choose to take their talents to countries with pro-family immigration policies,” he said. 

Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, Illinois Democrat and an Iraq War veteran, who represents the state’s 8th District, which also has a significant Indian and South Asian constituency, said,   “It is imperative that comprehensive immigration reform protects and expands access to family-sponsored immigration.”

She recalled, “As a teenager, I was separated from my mother for more than six months as she waited for approval to enter the United States. I can only imagine the hardships that families that have to wait more than twenty years to be reunited must endure. Strong families are the backbone of our communities and the Congress should do everything within its power to create an immigration system that is humane and prioritises keeping families together.”

Cherian told rediff.com, “I am not sure to what extent the draft bill would propose to curtail the family reunification provisions of current immigration law,” but noted, “If the new legislative proposal contains  provisions which would be inconsistent with the spirit of Helsinki Convention -- and the United States is a signatory to this treaty -- relating to family reunification of immediate relatives of US citizens, I am sure our senior Congressional leaders and President Obama would oppose those provisions.”

Cherian, who served in the Reagan administration, and was the first Asian American to be appointed to a sub-cabinet level position as commissioner, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, said, “ If the final legislative proposal contains any provision against any current basic family interests of legal immigrants, I would urge all ethnic community organisational leaders to convene a national leadership conference and approach the leaders of this great nation with their legitimate concerns.”

Image: Courtesy: Reform Immigration FOR America/Facebook

Aziz Haniffa in Washington DC