Family Unity

LIRS cares deeply about the unity of migrant families. We focus on two advocacy issues that affect family unity: visa availability and family separation within the United States.

Family Visas

Under the current immigration system, U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents are allowed to petition for family members to join them in the United States. Wait times to receive a family visa range from a few months to 23 years.

LIRS’s family-based immigration FAQ document explains why. For U.S. citizens, an unlimited number of visas are available for immediate family members. However, far fewer visas are available for other close relatives including unmarried adult children and siblings. For legal permanent residents, family visas are limited in all categories and by country of origin. Demand for family visas greatly exceeds the supply, creating severe backlogs.

Family Separation Within the United States

Many families in the United States have “mixed status.” For example, parents who are undocumented may have U.S. citizen children or an undocumented immigrant may be married to a U.S. citizen or a legal permanent resident.

When the Department of Homeland Security conducts immigration enforcement actions, mixed status families are often separated due to differing immigration statuses. Although prosecutorial discretion allows immigration officials to consider family ties in the United States when deciding to detain an immigrant, this practice is inconsistent.

Family by the Numbers

  • 21 years, 6 months — Family visa wait time for Filipino siblings of U.S. citizens, the longest wait time for relatives of U.S. citizens (Department of State Visa Bulletin, January 2015)
    • 12 years, 10 months—Average wait time for siblings of U.S. citizens
  • 19 years, 2 months — Family visa wait time for unmarried adult children of legal permanent residents from Mexico, the longest wait time for relatives of legal permanent residents (Department of State Visa Bulletin, January 2015)
    • 6 years, 10 months—Average wait time for unmarried adult children of legal permanent residents
  • 4.5 million — Estimated number of U.S. citizen children who have families with mixed immigration status (Pew Hispanic Center, 2011)
  • 46,686 – Number of children whose parents were deported in the first six months of FY 2011 (ICE Report to Congress, March 2012)
  • 108,434 — Number of parents of U.S. citizen children who were deported 1998-2007 (DHS Office of Inspector General, January 2009)

LIRS’s Position

LIRS supports improving the family-based immigration system to ensure the timely reunification of families. LIRS also supports the consideration of family unity in enforcement activities. We are deeply concerned the U.S. immigration system separates families when Christian tradition and our own experience providing services to families nationwide uphold the central role of family in the formation of faith, character, and community.


The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S. 744)
S. 744, the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill includes provisions to reform the family-based immigration system. After considering many amendments to the bill, including amendments related to family unity, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill in a bipartisan vote on May 21. The bill now heads to further debate and amendments on the Senate floor beginning in early June. Read statements from LIRS and U.S. senators about the importance of family unity and take action for family unity in immigration reform!

Reuniting Families Act of 2013
This legislation would reduce the time some family members must wait before being able to reunite with their loved ones, provide for faster reunification for spouses and minor children of lawful permanent residents, and allow the government to ameliorate hardship faced by families who might otherwise be forced apart by the current restrictions in immigration laws.

LIRS Resources

  • Overview of family provisions in S. 744
  • Overview of family amendments to S. 744
  • Frequently asked questions on family-based immigration
  • Statement on two bills introduced to protect children and families separated by immigration enforcement
  • Statement for March 14, 2013 hearing on family separation in the immigration system
  • Statement by Bishop Mansholt of the ELCA Central States Synod on family unity in the immigration system

How You Can Help