It was a blessing to be invited to go to Value Our Families Fly-In Advocacy Days in Washington D.C. July 16-18. The training by Value Our Families and Church World Service was thorough, promising to keep us busy. Our group of 67 had 125 meetings and drop-bys at the Capitol with Senators, Congress People and their Staffers to talk about issues of immigration especially families caught in the immigration quagmire and separated at the Borders. The second day, we attended a Press Conference in front of the Capitol as Rep. Judy Chu of California presented her bill the Reuniting Families Act H.R. 4944. Our task was to learn about and understand this new bill and lobby for it that day and the next on Capitol Hill. It was a very exciting experience.
The current family-based immigration system has not been updated in 20 years—keeping spouses, children, and their parents separated for years and often decades. The Reuniting Families Act would reduce family immigration visa backlogs and promote humane and timely reunification of immigrant families.
There are over 4.4 million people in the family immigration backlog waiting to reunite with their family members. This bill reunites family members to strengthen our communities and our economy. Specifically, the bill’s provisions propose the following changes, additions, or deletions:
- Recaptures Immigrant Visas Lost to Bureaucratic Delay—The bill recaptures unused employment-based and family-sponsored visas from fiscal years 1992-2015. For future years, unused visa numbers will automatically “roll over” to the next fiscal year.
- Reclassifies Spouses & Minor Children of Green Card Holders as “Immediate Relatives”—so that spouses and children under 21 of lawful permanent residents who are waiting can immediately reunite with their families. Currently, they are subject to annual numerical limits.
- Eliminates Per-Country Limits—This addresses the decades-long backlogs from certain countries such as the Mexico, the Philippines, China, and India.
- Provides Greater Enforcement Relief for Families—Allows more flexibility in addressing numerous hardships, including family separation, and gives immigration adjudicators and judges more discretion to handle special cases.
- Eliminates Having to go to the Back of the Line—A family- or employment-based visa applicant can retain their earliest priority date regardless of the category of subsequent petitions.
- Accommodates Special Immigrant Groups—provides relief for orphans and widows seeking a visa after the death of a sponsoring relative; exempts children of Filipino World War II who fought of the U.S. from family visa limits; and allows for equal treatment of all stepchildren.
- Includes LGBTQ Immigration Protections—permits LGBTQ citizens and legal permanent residents in binational same-sex relationships to sponsor their permanent partner for immigration to the U.S.; helps individuals whose permanent partner is from a country that does not recognize same-sex marriage; ensure that same- sex refugee partners are resettled together; and that asylum grantees can have their non- married partners “follow to join” them in the U.S.
The current Administration seeks to continue arcane practices of family immigration perhaps because it has a narrower definition of what it means to be family. If the Trump team has its way, we could be looking at 0 (that’s zero) Immigration in the coming year. Sounds crazy but it’s true. Can you imagine if your own ancestors had been told simply, “Sorry, we’ve closed the door. You cannot come in.” Where would you be now?
In CT, Rep. Jim Himes said he would more than likely support it in the House of Representatives as would Sen. Richard Blumenthal when it goes to the Senate. In MA, Rep. Jim McGovern has already signed as have others in the House. If you would like to support this bill and encourage your Senator and Congress People to do so as well, but you need more info. please go to: ValueOurFamilies.org, e-mail Vivian Cheng firstname.lastname@example.org or check in with Rev. Noel Andersen (UCC) Church World Service Grassroots Coordinator for Immigrants’ Rights, Based in Washington, D.C. https://cwsglobal.org/rev-noel-andersen/
Let’s work to end family separation and improve the immigration system which is poorly serving our country and the people who come here to live their lives in peace.
The Rev. Carla Dietz is the Interim Senior Minister First Congregational Church of Greenwich.