June 26, 2013 STATEMENT–LIRS Statement for Markup: “The Supplying Knowledge-Based Immigrants and Lifting Levels of STEM Visas (SKILLS Visa) Act”

Press Contact: Jon Pattee, LIRS Assistant Director for Media Relations
202-591-5778, jpattee@lirs.org

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), the national organization established by Lutheran churches in the United States to serve uprooted people, is dismayed the U.S. House of Representatives is considering immigration legislation that would eliminate channels for family reunification. People of faith have long called for an immigration system that upholds family unity, but the SKILLS Visa Act ignores this call.

“LIRS and Lutherans all over America strongly believe that our nation’s immigration system must allow all migrants and refugees a chance to remain or reunite with their families and stop tearing families apart,” said Linda Hartke, LIRS President and CEO. “We reject any efforts to compromise the core American value of family unity, efforts that ignore the many contributions families make to our congregations, communities, culture, and economy.”

“Families being whole and healthy are of vital importance to Lutheran congregations and local communities. The love, commitment, and support of family is a great gift that creates purpose for individuals, is central to our faith, and grounds the very structure of our society,” said Rev. Dr. Gerald L. Mansholt, Bishop of the Central States Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). “There is no reason to believe that immigrant families are any different.”

The SKILLS Visa Act would abolish the opportunity for U.S. citizens to have their brothers or sisters join them in the United States. Not only would the bill eliminate the sibling family preference category (“F4”) immediately after enactment, it would also prevent any siblings with approved petitions who have been waiting years or decades to join their family members from entering the country. This change is extreme. Rather than solving the problems of our broken immigration system, the SKILLS Visa Act creates new dilemmas. For example, the inflexibility of our current immigration laws take a toll on American families, often forcing them to make difficult decisions about whether to obey laws that force them apart or remain with or rejoin family members.

The love and support of family is essential to the long-term success and integration of new and aspiring Americans. Every day, LIRS’ broad national network of service partners witness the importance of family unity across the diverse migrant and refugee communities who come to call the United States home. Refugees and asylees in particular rely on our family-based immigration system when they petition for their family members to join them in the country where they sought freedom and safety. These new Americans may currently petition for a sibling with whom they may only be able to reconnect years after fleeing persecution, arriving in the United States, and becoming U.S. citizens. Survivors of conflict and trauma benefit greatly from the ability to reunify with a close relative who can provide strength, comfort, and care.

Congress is in the midst of a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a fair, compassionate, and workable immigration system. Immigration reform legislation must protect and improve the legal immigration channels currently available to close family members of new and aspiring Americans. LIRS and our faith-based, ethnic, and immigrant rights partners stand ready to champion a reformed immigration system that is responsive to the needs of our economy and social fabric.

LIRS 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 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 to end the hardships faced by families who remain separated.
  • Allow the spouse or child of a refugee to bring their children to the United States when they accompany or follow to join the spouse or parent who was originally awarded refugee status. Furthermore, children should be allowed to accompany or follow to join a refugee caregiver in the United States if it is in that child’s best interest.
  • 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 and prevent individuals whose family relationship or marital status changes while waiting for approval are not subject to processing delays. Give the government authority to ameliorate hardship faced by families who might otherwise be forced apart by detention or removal from the United States.

Additional LIRS Resources

  • Overview of S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act’s positive and negative changes to family-based immigration http://bit.ly/1aKvboe
  • March 15, 2013 remarks by Bishop Gerald L. Mansholt of the Central States Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, “Family Unity in the Legal Immigration System of the United State of America” http://bit.ly/14ppmrj
  • March 14, 2013 statement on the hearing “The Separation of Nuclear Families under U.S. Immigration Law” http://bit.ly/1cilVpj
  • February 14, 2013 statement in support of the Reuniting Families Act, H.R. 717 http://bit.ly/16xF2ul
  • Frequently Asked Questions resource on Family-Based Immigration www.bit.ly/11Jqt2Z 

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. For more information, please visit www.lirs.org.

If you have any questions about this statement, please feel free to contact Brittney Nystrom, LIRS Director for Advocacy at (202) 626-7943 or via email at bnystrom@lirs.org.