One of the most satisfying parts of providing legal immigration services is seeing immigrant clients (like the ones pictured above) reunify with their family members because of the family-based immigration services we provide at Catholic Charities. Recent arrivals to Ithaca include parents, minor children, adult children, siblings, and spouses who have successfully emigrated from various countries from all corners of the world. In some instances, the family-based petitions took 5-10 years to process.
Family reunification has held a revered spot in our immigration policy since the Immigration & Naturalization Act of 1965 was signed into law by President Johnson. The 1965 Act ended an immigration-admissions policy based on race and ethnicity and replaced it with a system that would focus on both keeping immigrant families intact and attracting skilled labor to the US. Since then, about two-thirds of immigrant visas have been family-based. Unfortunately, the White House recently threw its support behind the RAISE Act which seems to give an unfair advantage to highly skilled immigrant workers and an unfair advantage to immigrants who hope to emigrate to the US to reunify with family members.
Everyone pretty much agrees that our immigration system is broken and needs to be modernized but it shouldn’t be done at the expense of reunifying immigrant families. For several years, economist/professor/author Harriet Duleep has been making compelling arguments in research and press articles, as well as in front of Congress that skilled immigrants have families too. She contends family visas complement high-skilled visas – the two shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. Duleep also reasonably questions that when someone like an emigrating scientist is considering which country to move to, wouldn’t there be a preference to relocate to where family members, including siblings, parents, and adult children can also live, over a country where only certain family members are welcome?
Research shows that there are definite advantages when an immigrant family is allowed to reunify. The newcomers can pool their resources with family members who emigrated before them so things like childcare and elderly care become less of a burden on the wage earners. Families who are reunified can also support each other financially by increasing access to credit or referring a relative to a current employer for a job. These are tangible benefits that can lead the family toward upward mobility and integration.
The emotional well-being of immigrant families who are reunited after years of separation is another advantage that is often overlooked. In my own work, I have seen the emotional supports that attribute to the well-being of family members who emigrated to the US first when family members arrive. I have clients whose siblings have finally made it to the US after 10-15 years of separation relieving the stress and guilt of those who emigrated first. Many arrived into the country as refugees and waited years to be reunited with family members who stayed behind in countries that remained war-torn, had no health care systems, or had to deal daily with food insecurity. This definitely took a huge toll on their emotional well-being. Under the RAISE Act, siblings would no longer be afforded the opportunity to emigrate to the US.
Immigrant parents sometimes petition for their children one by one because the family doesn’t have the resources it needs to bring more than one child at a time. Sometimes the minor children left behind turn into young adults by the time the parents save the money needed to file a relative petition with USCIS. Under the RAISE Act, adult children are another group who wouldn’t be able to come to the US even though as young adults their kinship ties are as strong as they were when they were still minors.
Although this proposed piece of legislation isn’t expected to garner the Congressional support it will need to be enacted into law, it does seem inevitable that there will continue to be a lot of advocating for some type of reform that will result in deep cuts made to the number of immigrants who receive family-based visas. Hopefully the debate will shift and voices like Duleep’s, that are knowledgeable about the advantages of keeping immigrant families intact, will be taken into consideration. She and others have even called for raising the quotas for employment or skill based visas. With any luck, this thinking will prevail when the current immigration system gets overhauled instead of modernizing it at the expense of immigrants looking to reunify with their family members.