By Laura Vazquez, Legislative Analyst, NCLR
A number of years ago, I worked in the district office of a member of Congress and witnessed first-hand the impact of immigration laws on U.S. citizens and permanent residents who were separated from their immediate relatives. I saw the look of confusion on their faces when they learned that despite filling out the paperwork, paying the fees, and having a letter saying that the immigration office approved their request to sponsor their relative, they would still be separated from their loved one for years. They looked at me incredulously as I showed them the monthly chart from the State Department which revealed that visas were being granted to individuals who had been approved for one years before their application had been filed. It sounded ridiculous to me as I explained that, yes, I understood their family member had been approved for a visa; however, they would not be able to get it for years.
If you look at the most recent visa bulletin from the State Department, you can see that because the demand for visas exceeds the annual limits on the number of visas issued, the consulate in Mexico is currently processing visas for the unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens that were requested before July 15, 1993. That is a twenty-year wait time for parents who are U.S. citizens to be together with their children. What kind of legal immigration system separates parents from their kids and expects them to live in different countries for over two decades?
In order to bring our immigration system into the 21st century, we need to fix our family immigration system so that families can be together and contribute to their communities in the United States. Immigrants who are sponsored by U.S. citizen and permanent resident relatives are working, paying taxes, buying homes, and starting businesses. Immigrants that join their immediate relatives in the United States possess important skills and are adaptable to the labor market. Our country benefits when immigrant families are together and supporting each other.
Honoring family ties is a core American value and must be a part of the broader conversation around immigration reform. I am certain that congressional district offices continue to receive requests for assistance from citizens and permanent residents whose immediate relatives are waiting outside of the country while their visas are in the backlogs. Members of Congress should hear their pleas for family unity as they push for immigration reform. We have always recognized that family unity is a national value and interest, so we must improve the family-based component as we push to modernize our immigration system. America will be stronger with immigration laws that focus on both allowing Americans to reunite with their closest family members and allowing employers to bring in the skilled workers that they need.