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Seven Senators Champion Family Unity in Comprehensive Immigration Reform

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LIRS Hails Senators Hirono, Warren, Boxer, Brown, Schatz, Harkin, and Franken for Letter to “Gang of Eight”

Press Contact: Jon Pattee

WASHINGTON, DC March 22, 2013 — Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) welcomes the leadership of seven Democratic senators who issued a joint letter urging their colleagues in the bipartisan “Gang of Eight,” which is currently drafting an immigration reform bill, to prioritize family reunification and rethink any plans to reduce the number of family-based  visas.

Senators Mazie Hirono (HI), Elizabeth Warren (MA), Barbara Boxer (CA), Sherrod Brown (OH), Brian Schatz (HI), Tom Harkin (IA) and Al Franken (MN) signed the March 20 letter, which urges the “Gang of Eight” to preserve visas reserved for foreign brothers, sisters, and adult children of U.S. citizens.

“These senators are true champions of family unity, which is the bedrock of our communities’ health and economic prosperity,” said LIRS President and CEO Linda Hartke. “The time is now for truly humane and comprehensive immigration reform, and it must be built on family unity and a pathway to earned citizenship for the 11 million aspiring citizens in this country.”

“As you work on your draft legislation, however, we urge you to prioritize clearing the backlog of family visas and ensuring that going forward the reformed system makes it easier for people to be united with their families, including their brothers and sisters and their adult children,” the senators wrote in their letter.

The senators continued, “According to a recent media report, the proposed bill would eliminate family-based admission categories for the married adult children and siblings of U.S. citizens. This is very troubling. Different types of family members can play an important role in each other’s lives, and for some Americans a brother or sister is the only family they have.”

LIRS on March 15 joined other advocacy partners in hosting briefings in both chambers of Congress to stress the importance of family-based immigration. As part of the panel, the Rev. Dr. Gerald Mansholt, bishop of the Central States Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, offered remarks on the importance of family unity.

LIRS’s statement for the record on family unity makes numerous recommendations to Congress:

  • Protect the ability of close family members of U.S. citizens (spouses, married and unmarried children of all ages, parents, and siblings) and legal permanent residents (spouses and unmarried children) to reunify.
  • Provide for faster reunification for the spouses and minor children of lawful permanent residents by reclassifying them as immediate relatives.
  • Make available unused and unclaimed family-based and employment-based visas and ensure that future unused visas are not wasted.
  • Swiftly review, resolve, and process family visa backlogs, ending the hardships faced by families who remain separated.
  • Allow the spouse or child of a refugee to bring their children to the United States or follow to join the spouse or parent who was originally awarded refugee status. Admit children who have been living under the care of a refugee awarded status if it is in the best interest of that child join the refugee caregiver in the United States.
  • Raise the per-country visa limits from seven to fifteen percent of total admissions to reduce long wait times for certain nationalities.
  • Provide due relief for surviving relatives of refugees and asylees and the surviving spouses and stepchildren of U.S. citizens.
  • Ensure that families with children who become adults during the course of seeking visas are not subject to processing delays, and prevent delays for individuals whose family relationship or marital status changes while waiting for approval.
  • Give the government authority to ameliorate hardship faced by families who might otherwise be forced apart by detention or removal from the United States.

LIRS is nationally recognized for its leadership advocating on behalf of refugees, asylum seekers, unaccompanied children, immigrants in detention, families fractured by migration and other vulnerable populations, and for providing services to migrants through over 60 grassroots legal and social service partners across the United States.

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