Positive and Negative Changes to Family-Based Immigration
Family unity is a core American value, and for decades Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) has advocated for an immigration system that reunites migrant and refugee families instead of dividing them. Therefore, LIRS has a mixed reaction to the family provisions included in S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.
The bipartisan bill, passed by the Senate on June 27 with a vote of 68-32, makes the following improvements to our family-based immigration system:
- Backlogged visa applications filed by U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (also known as “LPRs” or “green card holders”) on behalf of their siblings and children would be processed within 10 years.
- Future applicants may benefit from reduced wait times as per-country caps on family immigration would rise and unused visas would be allowed to be used in subsequent years.
- Spouses and minor children of LPRs would be reclassified as “immediate relatives.” This change would exempt these dependents from annual visa caps and speed the reunification of these families.
- The immigration status of widows and orphans would be preserved after the death of their petitioning relative. Immigration processes for fiancés, fiancées, and stepchildren would be improved to increase family unity.
- Parents immigrating to join their U.S. citizen child in the United States would be permitted to have their minor children (the petitioning citizen’s sibling(s)) accompany them.
- An immigration judge would have discretion to consider the impact of an immigrant’s deportation, which is often devastating, on his or her U.S. citizen or LPR parents, spouse, or children.
- New “V” visas would be granted to certain family members with approved family-based visas, allowing them to unite with loved ones in the United States while awaiting a green card.
Unfortunately, S.744 falls short as follows:
- U.S. citizens would no longer be able to petition for immigrant visas for their brothers, sisters, and married children over the age of 31, ending the opportunity for these family members to provide vital family structure and support and contribute to our nation.
- A new merit-based immigration system would award points based on some family relationships, yet would fail to sufficiently substitute for lost immigration opportunities for siblings and some married children of U.S. citizens. Some answers to how the new system is working will emerge after a required study is completed within seven years of enactment, examining how these relatives fare in the new merit-based system.