Here at LIRS, we’ve spent the past 10 days analyzing the immigration reform legislation that the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” released on April 17. This bill, known as S.744 or the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, would overhaul our current immigration system. It includes numerous improvements to our immigration laws that would benefit migrants, refugees, their families and communities, and our nation. LIRS applauds these improvements, but also decries changes made by the legislation that would divide some immigrant families.
S.744 is far from becoming law. Proposed changes by senators on the Judiciary Committee will be voted on during a series of hearings in the month of May. Next, the amended bill will move to the floor of the Senate where it will be subjected to additional debate and voting. Finally, S.744 must either be adopted by the House of Representatives or be reconciled with any competing immigration reforms put forward by that chamber.
LIRS has carefully considered how S.744 would impact our five principles for reform. Details of our analysis are available now on our website, and we are releasing the analyses on our blog over the course of this week. Today, we take an in-depth look at family unity.
Comprehensive Immigration Reform Through Senate Bill S. 744
Positive and Negative Changes to Family-Based Immigration
Family unity is a core American value, and for decades Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) has advocated for an immigration system that reunites and keeps intact migrant and refugee families instead of dividing them. Therefore, LIRS has a mixed reaction to how immigrant families are treated in S.744 (The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act), introduced April 17, 2013 in the Senate.
LIRS applauds numerous improvements in S.744 that would strengthen family unity and enable migrants and refugees to reunite with loved ones in the United States. The bipartisan bill makes the following improvements to our family-based immigration system:
- Backlogged visa applications filed by U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (also known as “LPRs” or “green card holders”) on behalf of their siblings and children would be processed within 10 years.
- Future applicants may benefit from reduced wait times as per-country caps on family immigration would rise and unused visas would be allowed to be used in subsequent years.
- Spouses and minor children of LPRs would be reclassified as “immediate relatives.” This change would exempt these dependents from annual visa caps and speed the reunification of these families.
- The immigration status of widows and orphans would be preserved after the death of their petitioning relative. Immigration processes for fiancés, fiancées, and stepchildren would be improved to increase family unity.
- Parents immigrating to join their U.S. citizen child in the United States would be permitted to have their minor children (the petitioning citizen’s sibling(s)) accompany them.
- An immigration judge would have discretion to consider the impact of an immigrant’s deportation, which is often devastating, on his or her U.S. citizen or LPR parents, spouse, or children.
- New “V” visas would be granted to certain family members with approved family-based visas, allowing them to unite with loved ones in the United States while awaiting a green card.
Unfortunately, S.744 falls short as follows:
- U.S. citizens would no longer be able to petition for immigrant visas for their brothers, sisters, and married children over the age of 30, ending the opportunity for these family members to provide vital family structure and support and contribute to our nation. Citizens should not lose the ability to reunite with their siblings and their married sons and daughters of all ages.
- A new merit-based immigration system would award points based on some family relationships, yet would fail to sufficiently substitute for lost immigration opportunities for siblings and some married children of U.S. citizens. Any new immigration system must adequately honor America’s historical commitment to family unity.
Throughout the legislative process, lawmakers will be listening for voices from their constituents. It’s critical that they hear from you and everyone who stands for welcome for migrants and refugees. This is a moment of opportunity to encourage Congress to provide a roadmap to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and their families, ensure humane and just enforcement of our immigration laws, uphold family unity for migrants and refugees, improve our refugee and asylum processes, and protect U.S. citizen and migrant workers. Visit our Action Center and tell your members of Congress that you support family unity in immigration reform. You can also keep tabs on the latest immigration reform developments by reading our Monday updates by Hill experts.
Thank you for continuing to Stand for Welcome for migrants and refugees!