S.1: Immigration Reform, Earned Citizenship, and Family Unity at Stake

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Immigration Reform 2013 Family Unity jpegS.1, the Senate immigration bill that could make history, should be unveiled this week. Two key questions are on everyone’s mind, and my own – will S.1 keep families together, and will it create a path to earned citizenship?

S.1, which will have a new number when introduced, holds huge meaning for LIRS. It’s critical that it include a fair path to citizenship  not too long or expensive or arduous that it creates a disincentive for adjustment of status. However, it’s not clear that everyone shares this vision; in fact, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) on Sunday called for a citizenship path that is “longer, more expensive and more difficult to navigate… It would actually be cheaper if they went back home, wait 10 years and apply for a green card.” This is not the vision shared by LIRS or faith leaders across America.

S.1 must also protect the family-based immigration system. The idea that this current focus is at odds with America’s economic goals or can be traded away for a more efficient skills-based system is a red herring. As Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) points out, immigrant entrepreneurs like Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, came to America on the family-based system. Why is it crucial that S.1 not divert our immigration process from family unity?

S.1’s drafters must know that immigrants, like all of us, require the support of social networks, especially family. This is particularly true when starting up or leading businesses, or leading science, technology, engineering, or mathematics-related intellectual enterprises. Economic growth does not arise in a vacuum; to dramatically change (or dismantle) the family-based system would actually jeopardize the economic growth that are the claim to fame of economic-based visa systems. (Europe is a living example of the pitfalls of creating a commoditized immigration system that does not view immigrants as people, but simply as either potential contributors or takers in a purely economic sense.) Ben Johnson, the Executive Director of the American Immigration Council (AIC), offered good testimony on this last month. From AIC’s website:

While momentum around the many components of comprehensive immigration reform builds, bipartisanship on high-skilled immigration and immigrant entrepreneurship is also growing, as these pieces of legislation suggest. The fact that immigrant entrepreneurs play a vital role in America’s innovation economy is not lost on policymakers. A wide swath of interdisciplinary research finds that high-skilled immigration and immigrant entrepreneurs strengthen the U.S. economy.

Moving forward, lawmakers should avoid the temptation to support legislation which simply robs visa numbers from one visa category in order to add numbers to another category. For instance, any bill which increases the supply of visas for high-skilled immigrants and immigrant entrepreneurs at the expense of visas for family reunification is not worthy of support. If immigration reform is to be truly comprehensive in scope, it must make all components of the immigration system more flexible, rather than continue to impose arbitrary numerical limits that bear no relationship to economic or social reality.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) has a great video that highlights the need for flexibility in the system to accommodate family along a whole range of family units, thereby maintaining our unique and essential family-based system.

S.1 will be a reality, tomorrow or in weeks to come. The support and partnership of faith-based communities will be critical not only to creating further political momentum for compassionate and humane immigration reform, but also for its successful implementation. It would be prudent of the senators drafting S.1 to heed the voices of these necessary and well-positioned partners as they put the finishing touches on the bill.

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