The reunification of families is the foundation of our immigration system, and more importantly, the foundation of our society. Virtually every immigration law in place today is either designed to encourage families to reunite in the United States or to stay together as they immigrate. There are laws to reunite refugee families, keep the families of employment-based immigrants together, and, of course, enable a variety of close family members to immigrate to the United States if their relatives are U.S. citizens (USCs) or lawful permanent residents (LPRs). Congress has clearly and consistently emphasized the importance of families as the foundation of our overall immigration strategy. Or, at least it says it has.
Current System Not Family-Friendly
Unfortunately, the reality of this nation’s family-based immigration system is that it is woefully inadequate in reuniting families in any reasonable timeframe. Congress’s failure to include family members in the legalization programs of the past—such as that in the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986—have caused two decades of delays in reuniting families. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service’s (USCIS) failure to timely adjudicate applications to reunite the families of asylees has caused serious harm to individuals. Inadequate numbers of available family-based immigrant visas have caused up to an estimated 40-year wait for siblings of USCs from Mexico. That is not a “line”; that is a mockery.
These “laws” also have clearly and directly contributed to undocumented immigration to the United States. How many know of legal immigrants who were joined in the United States by their spouses and children, who came without documents, simply to be reunited? We can no longer ignore the impact that this broken family-based immigration system has on the entire debate surrounding “illegal” immigration.
These problems arise from the laws already in place. What about the problems caused to those families with children over the age of 21 and who cannot mentally or physically care for themselves as they immigrate to the United States? Or immigrants of the same gender who seek to be together permanently in the United States? The same problems arise for those who immigrate as parents of USCs, but who have to leave their minor children behind because of a bizarre quirk in our immigration laws. The reality is that we have a long way to go before these laws reflect U.S. values—family unity, equal access to the immigration system to all USCs and LPRs, and reasonable “lines” for immigrating to the United States.
Fight for Change
For those who are concerned about immigration—regardless of which side of the isle your political views fall—we must focus our efforts on positive change to our immigration system. This change is one that can positively impact America—and immigrants—for the next generation. As citizens we are responsible for asking for positive change. Without the voice of citizens united for positive immigration reform, change will not come fast enough to satisfy the demands of this now-broken immigration system. Let us be the voice for these families.