WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 17, 2013) — A group of senators, dubbed the “Gang of Eight” on Thursday released a comprehensive immigration reform bill, Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013.
The Asian American Center for Advancing Justice (Advancing Justice)–Asian American Institute (AAI), Asian American Justice Center (AAJC), Asian Law Caucus (ALC) and Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC), welcome the group’s leadership in bringing immigration reform to the forefront. Unfortunately, the family immigration overhaul proposes changes that will dramatically restrict families from reuniting with certain loved ones and excludes LGBT couples from the family-immigration system.
“We applaud the bi-partisan Senate leadership for putting forth a proposal that is a substantial step in the right direction toward fixing our broken immigration system and a solid starting point for addressing the current backlogs,” said Mee Moua, president and executive director of AAJC. “Nevertheless, we are deeply concerned about the elimination of visa categories pertaining to siblings and married adult children over the age of 30. AAJC looks forward to working with the Senate to ensure all families are protected as the bill goes through the legislative process.”
The family immigration system is crucial to the social and economic success of immigrant families, and the comprehensive immigration reform bill must take into consideration the millions of Asian, Latino and African and Caribbean immigrant families who aspire to reunite with their loved ones. “We are pleased to see real political will around immigration reform, but continue to be concerned about the impact of proposed legislation on family reunification,” said Tuyet Le, executive director of AAI. “Families play a critical role in our day-to-day lives, and we will continue to advocate for reform legislation that keeps families together.”
“This marks a radical departure from our long-standing American tradition of holding family unity at the core of our immigration system. The proposal needlessly asks immigrants to choose between their jobs and their families,” said Chris Punongbayan, acting executive director of ALC.
“While we are encouraged by the introduction of an immigration reform bill, immigrants succeed in this country in large part because of their families-they start businesses together, raise their families, set down roots and prosper together,” said Stewart Kwoh, executive director of APALC. “Eliminating the ability of U.S. citizens to sponsor their loved ones-brothers, sisters and adult married children 31 years of age and older-runs counter to the family values that are a cornerstone of our nation. It is also counterproductive since it limits the ability of immigrant families to contribute to the entrepreneurship and innovation that have been vital drivers of economic growth throughout our nation’s history. We call on Congress to uphold family values along with entrepreneurship during the amendment process by strengthening both the family and employment-based immigration systems.”
Advancing Justice notes that the current bill does not yet include Filipino American WWII veterans who have waited far too long to reunite with their family members and LGBT couples and families who continue to be excluded from the family-immigration system. Per an initial review of the bill, we are encouraged by the following proposed changes to the family-immigration system:
• Redefines the “immediate relatives” definition to include spouses and minor children of green card holders, allowing an expedited process not subject to numerical caps on green cards.
• Allows parents of U.S. citizens who immigrate to the U.S. to bring their minor children with them, keeping families together.
• Eliminates the family backlog over a period of ten years.
• Permits family members awaiting green cards to work and live in the U.S.
• Allows other family members to visit the U.S. for up to 60 days per year.
However, we are mindful of the following proposed changes that are a dramatic departure from our long-standing value of family unity:
• Eliminates the “F4” visa category so that U.S. citizens will no longer be able to sponsor their brothers and sisters.
• Places an age cap on the “F3” visa category so that U.S. citizens can only sponsor their adult married children who are thirty years old or younger.
• Continues to exclude LGBT couples and families from sponsoring their loved ones for family reunification.
With these initial observations, we will work with Congress on the existing framework to ensure that this system sufficiently addresses the needs of all American immigrant families, specifically one that is fully inclusive of adult siblings and children of all ages. Advancing Justice understands that this bill is a work in progress, and has begun a comprehensive analysis of the bill’s impact on Asian American and immigrant families. Advancing Justice is closely reviewing and monitoring all other provisions surrounding legalization and due process issues to ensure that the solutions are just and humane.We look forward to working with all Members of Congress and our immigration allies on ensuring that the comprehensive immigration reform bill is strengthened and inclusive of all families.
U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) expressed a similar reaction to the bipartisan immigration bill unveiled by the Senate Gang of Eight.
“I appreciate the Gang of Eight’s hard work over many months to move us closer to achieving comprehensive immigration reform,” Hirono said. “I look forward to reviewing the details of the bill, particularly the provisions that are intended to mitigate the harm to families caused by eliminating the sibling category of visas, and the provisions that affect immigrants’ access to the country’s safety net programs. As an immigrant who came to this country as a young girl, I know how important it is to support immigrant families in order for them to succeed in this country. As this bill moves forward, I look forward to working with my Judiciary Committee colleagues on ways the bill can strengthen opportunities to reunite families and set immigrants up for success.”
The National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, a coalition of 30 national Asian Pacific American organizations, issued a similar statement Wednesday regarding the introduction of an immigration reform bill in the U.S. Senate. It states that NCAPA commends the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” senators for taking a necessary first step in reforming our nation’s broken immigration system.
The statement adds that provisions in the bill, Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, address the family and employment systems, path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and enforcement and border security, among others. However, there are significant concerns that certain provisions of the bill are not inclusive or broad-ranging enough.
NCAPA’s particular concerns are related to the changes in the family-based immigration system that will prevent families from reuniting with important loved ones; promoting business interests should not come at the expense of families. Other provisions would impair the ability of aspiring citizens to fully contribute to the nation, including the ability to participate in our health care system, which is essential for everyone’s health and safety.
The organization says it will thoroughly review details of the legislation in the coming days in order to fully assess its impact on the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.
AAPIs have much at stake when it comes to immigration policy reform. With three-quarters of our community members being foreign-born, AAPIs interface with every aspect of the immigration system. For example, Asian Americans utilize the family-based immigration system in large numbers: One-third of family-based visas issued go to those seeking to reunite with Asian American family members.
In addition, about 1.8 million loved ones are trapped in massive backlogs and are waiting to be reunited with their Asian American families. Approximately 1.3 million Asian Americans are undocumented and need an accessible and affordable path to legalization. We stand by our Statement of Principles on Immigration, which emphasize the need to keep all families together, create a roadmap to citizenship and equal rights for all undocumented immigrants, improve protections for immigrant workers and their families and reform detention and deportation systems.
A preliminary analysis of some of the key aspects of the bill by NCAPA finds encouraging developments on family immigration, but the proposed bill also includes changes that will restrict the ability of families to reunify. They are pleased to see that steps will be taken to address the family visa backlogs and that the definition of “immediate relatives” has been expanded to include the spouses and minor children of legal permanent residents, which means that they would no longer be subjected to numerical caps on green cards.
However, NCAPA remains concerned about the elimination of the F-4 visa category so that U.S. citizens will no longer be able to sponsor their brothers and sisters, and the placement of an age cap on the F-3 visa category so that U.S. citizens will no longer be able to sponsor their adult married children over the age of 30. Further, no provisions have been made to include LGBT couples and families to enable them to sponsor their loved ones. NCAPA advocates for changes that are in line with the principle of family unity, which has long been central to our immigration system.
The Senate finally delivered on its promise to introduce comprehensive immigration reform legislation that outlines a pathway to citizenship, according to NCAPA, providing a roadmap for millions of aspiring citizens to come out of the shadows, particularly women and DREAMers. The provision recognizes women who are in the informal economy such as stay at home mothers, working women with children, service sector workers, and domestic caregivers, many of whom are AAPIs. However, the roadmap is tenuous and not broad. A pathway to citizenship must include the opportunity for all 11.5 million undocumented immigrants to be recognized and considered eligible, be affordable without having arduously long waiting periods and not conditioned on arbitrary triggers.
NCAPA is pleased that the bill includes a section prohibiting profiling by federal law enforcement officers on the basis of race and ethnicity, as profiling in immigration enforcement has led to the unjust detention and deportation of many AAPI immigrants. They hope that the language can be expanded to encompass profiling on the basis of national origin, sex, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity or expression at a minimum.
The organization advocates for additional provisions, including remedies for individuals who are profiled in violation of these provisions and mandatory training for enforcement officers. Unfortunately, the bill does little else to restore due process and fairness to deportation laws that have resulted in unprecedented numbers of AAPIs, including those who came to the U.S. as refugees, being detained and deported without the proper review of a judge.
The bill also adds gang involvement as a new ground for deportation — something that is very difficult to prove, highly vulnerable to racial profiling and impacts the AAPI community directly, they said.
NCAPA is pleased that due process and whistleblower protections are included in this bill to ensure workers’ rights regardless of status. Too often, workers — especially those with limited to no English proficiency — fear retaliation, deportation, and endure workplace abuse.
The organization is concerned however with the mandatory E-Verify program and will look closely for further workplace and wage-level protections. Given the creation of a new W-visa program and reforms within the high skilled visa categories, they are encouraged by provisions that will allow employee portability and work authorization for spouses and children which will allow working families to contribute to our economy.
Despite the significant developments and reforms within employment-based visa programs, NCAPA said they should not be pitted against family reunification and we will continue to fight for family unity. They urge all Members of Congress to work together to strengthen the bill with more inclusive and humane measures in the coming months. NCAPA supports passage of a commonsense immigration reform bill that will unite families, give aspiring citizens a pathway to citizenship, provide protection for skilled and unskilled workers and end unduly harsh enforcement measures.
The National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA), founded in 1996, is a coalition of thirty Asian Pacific American organizations around the country. Based in Washington D.C, NCAPA serves to represent the interests of the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AA & NHPI) community and to provide a national voice on policy issues and priorities.