Blasting President Donald Trump for his xenophobic rhetoric of so-called “chain migration,” several House Democrats introduced the Reuniting Families Act, which aims to eliminate huge backlogs for family-based immigration, at a press conference Feb. 6 morning in Washington, DC.
The bill is sponsored by Rep. Judy Chu, D-California, chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. It is co-sponsored by 45 members of Congress, including three of the four members of the ‘Samosa Caucus’ – Indian American members of Congress – including Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, who spoke at the press conference; Rep. Ro Khanna, D-California; and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Illinois.
The legislation also has the support of numerous civil rights organizations.
“My parents spent all the money they had to send me from India to America when I was 15,” said Jayapal, one of a handful of Congress members born outside the U.S. “I didn't realize as I went through 17 years of process to become a U.S. citizen that I would never be on the same continent as my parents ever again,” she said.
Chu blasted the president for supporting a severely-restricted form of family-based migration. In his State of the Union address Jan. 30, the president stated: “Under the current broken system, a single immigrant can bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives. Under our plan, we focus on the immediate family by limiting sponsorships to spouses and minor children.” Trump said, decrying “chain migration” in support of a “nuclear family.” (See earlier India-West story here.)
“Let’s call ‘chain migration’ what it is: blatant discrimination,” stated Chu. The congresswoman noted it takes up to 24 years for some families to reunite, due to a huge backlog in the system, which currently has 4.4 million people in the queue. India, the Philippines, and China have the largest number of people logjammed in the system.
“It is not the floodgates Trump believes it to be,” said Chu at the press conference.
One of the most important provisions of the Reuniting Families Act – HR 4944 – is eliminating the per-country immigration limits, which several members of Congress speaking at the press conference said would clear the backlogs.
Another important provision for green card holders is reclassifying spouses and minor children as immediate family members who are not subject to the per-country limits. Currently, spouses and minor children of LPRs are classified as “first preference” for purposes of being able to immigrate.
The bill also recaptures unused employment-based and family-sponsored visas from fiscal years 1992-2016, which were lost due to bureaucratic delay. For future years, unused visa numbers would automatically roll over to the next fiscal year. It also protects widows, widowers, and orphans by allowing them to continue to wait in line for a visa after the death of a sponsoring relative.
“Those that have reunited with their families are happier, more financially stable, less likely to rely on government assistance, open more businesses, and own homes in greater numbers than native-born citizens. It’s clear family immigration works for our country and should be strengthened, not weakened,” said Chu.
“But with his comments about preferring immigrants from Norway, President Trump is trying to undermine this system of legal immigration and make America white again.”
“By making fixes that will accelerate family reunification, we will be helping the economy. Family immigration means welcoming immigrants who can rely on their parents to help raise their kids while they hold down a job, or can find financing for their business through their family when a bank says no. That’s true merit to me,” she said.
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-California, a co-sponsor of the bill, said at the press conference that Trump’s divisive rhetoric on immigration ignores the important role immigrants have played in shaping the American economy. “His misguided merit-based system is a direct attack on the importance of a family-based unit,” she said.
“We believe families should be together. That has been the cornerstone of U.S. immigration policy for decades,” said Jayapal.