What we need now are the stories. One year ago, hundreds of thousands of Americans, undocumented and documented, poured out onto the streets of America, raising their faces to the sun. Their faces told a story of small lives, humble, hard-working lives, raising families, cleaning homes, building America. It was hard to ignore those stories, to dismiss them as illegal. Those stories killed House Bill HR4437 that would have turned the storytellers into criminals.
But the future of immigration reform remains murky, caught up in the House and the Senate, ensnared in presidential election politics. Now comes news that the White House is floating a new immigration proposal. While the public debate still remains focused on the how-do-we-solve-the-problem-of-12-million-undocumented, the White House proposal tears down another pillar of immigration policy—family reunification.
Every year thousands of Americans with legal papers wait patiently for their families to join them from the homeland. Wives, parents, adult children—all wait anxiously in Manila and Mumbai for the call to the American embassy for that immigration interview. It’s an excruciatingly slow process but it still moves. Instead of cutting the red tape and bureaucracy that keeps families apart for years, the White House is moving in the other direction, warns advocates like Karen Narasaki, president of the Asian American Justice Center.
How about cutting the parents quota by half, capping it at 50,000? Never mind that almost 100,000 petition to join their children every year.
How about completely eliminating entire categories of family immigration? Sibling and adult children of American citizens are just out of luck, turned by a stroke of the pen from family members into strangers in the eyes of the law.
And here’s an effective way to shorten the queue. Let’s arbitrarily set May 2005 as the cut-off date. Anyone who applied after that date, it’s as if they never applied at all.
Instead of blood ties, people will be judged on a point system—what kind of education they have, how much English they know. In short, family members will suddenly find themselves in the same pool as new immigrants and undocumented workers seeking work visas.
A 2006 New America Media poll showed that 81 percent of all legal immigrants saw undocumented as doing jobs that no one else wanted to do. Seventy-three percent saw them as giving the economy a boost. They didn’t see those without papers as butting ahead in line because they didn’t see the undocumented in the same line at all. It’s as if the legal immigrants came on the airplane while the undocumented came in the carrier hold of a slow boat, commented one respondent. The new White House proposal seeks to blur that distinction by throwing everyone into the same pot to sink or swim. The “good immigrant” and the “bad immigrant” archetypes are being constructed. Now the stage is being set for them to compete.
“At a meeting with one senate staff I was asked why is it in our nation’s interest to have family members reunite,” says Narasaki.
Here are three reasons why.
A permanent class of legal immigrants who are constantly told their labor is welcome, but their families are not, will never be full participants in the American Dream. The Oath of Allegiance had been all about ensuring that new Americans do not have divided loyalties. Now that will be enshrined in law.
Families are the bedrock of American life. A new generation of young Americans recently identified broken families, not Iraq, global warming or an economic slump, as their greatest fear. What message does the White House send out about family values when its actions undercut its sermons?
And the third reason—David Ho, Time magazine’s Man of the Year in 1996, he pioneered the use of protease inhibitors to treat HIV-infected patients. Thousands and thousands of Americans today have a new lease on life thanks to him. Dr. Ho came to the United States at the age of 12 from Taiwan to unite with his father.
Where are the other David Hos? Family reunification needs their stories. We need those stories about husbands, wives, siblings, and children who boarded planes and ships to join their families in the American Dream.
Only then can we imagine what America would look like without them.
Editor’s note: Over the next weeks a new immigration bill is being discussed in Washington which may reduce the chances of re-uniting those families split between immigrants here and family members left behind in their home country. India Currents calls on you to share your story, or that of another immigrant. Send your story to firstname.lastname@example.org