A Huge Step Backward

A bipartisan group of senators and the White House struck a deal May 17 on a sweeping immigration reform plan. On the face of it, it seems to have something for everyone: a path to citizenship for the country’s 12 million undocumented immigrants, a guest worker program for industry, and a redoubling of border security for enforcement-minded voters.

On closer scrutiny, the proposal is pro-business, anti-family, and anti-immigrant.

The deal will drastically increase the number of “guest workers,” and cut back on family-based immigration in favor of pro-business worker visas, among several other effects.

The proposal calls for creation of two types of visas: Y and Z. The Z visa will allow illegal aliens to file for lawful permanent immigrant status by first obtaining a temporary visa in the United States, and then returning to their home country and applying for a green card. The provisions also require paying hefty filing fees. Z visa holders will not be able to petition for any relatives to join them.

The Y visa will be a temporary guest worker visa that will allow aliens to come and work in the United States. It will be made available to seasonal and non-seasonal workers. There are sub-categories and numerical as well as validity limitations.

If passed and signed into law, this proposal would dramatically shift how the nation chooses its future immigrants. Historically, priority has been given to those with family here. (Last year, 63 percent of immigration visas were granted to relatives of U.S. citizens or legal residents.) The Senate wants to adopt a new “point system” that would favor applicants who speak English, and those with higher education or specific job skills.

Senate Republicans held the legalization aspect of the plan hostage until Democrats agreed to eliminate the immigration categories reserved for siblings of U.S. citizens and unmarried older children of lawful residents.

This represents a huge step backward. Just a year ago, the Senate approved a bill that would have retained all family categories and even issued additional visas to reduce severe backlogs. Five million foreigners are awaiting visas to be reunited with their families, and many of them have waited for decades.

Family reunification has been the cornerstone of immigration policy and it was reaffirmed in the 1965 legislation that eliminated racial preferences. In 1981, the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy again determined that such policies were in the national interest, concluding that “psychologically and socially, the reunion of family members with their close relatives promotes the health and welfare of the United States.”

Family immigrants most often go to work immediately after entering the United States, thus helping to support the Social Security system and filling a range of jobs in which, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is going to be a shortage of workers in the coming years. They also open small businesses—restaurants, groceries, light industry—that create jobs and gentrify neighborhoods.

The nation has benefited economically and socially from our family-based immigration system. It may be impossible to calculate the value of reunification, but we could begin by thinking of our own families, including our siblings and older children. Without it, our productivity and sense of security will be seriously affected.

According to Republicans there is a conflict between retaining family immigration and adding employment-based immigration. However, if we view the two as complementary ways of achieving and reflecting our goals and values as a society, then there is no conflict at all. If we use immigration to help our economy, to promote the social welfare of the country, and to promote family values, then the family and employment categories together can meet those goals.

We, as a community, must reach out to our lawmakers and notify them that we do not approve of any immigration reform that compromises on family unity. This law will separate families for a longer time, make non-immigrant workers vulnerable to exploitation by employers, and increase the number of undocumented aliens in the future. It is bad policy which could turn into bad law.

Madan Ahluwalia, attorney-at-law, has an office in Belmont, Calif. (888) 286-1216. www.rajalaw.com

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