March 14, 2013 STATEMENT–LIRS Statement for Hearing: “Separation of Nuclear Families Under U.S. Immigration Law”

Press contact: Jon Pattee, LIRS Assistant Director for Media
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 pleased by Congressional and Administrative efforts to draft and enact comprehensive immigration reform. People of faith have long called for an immigration system that upholds family unity.

“LIRS and Lutherans all over America strongly believe that our nation’s immigration system must stop tearing families apart and must instead protect family unity for all migrants and refugees,” said Linda Hartke, LIRS President and CEO. “Every immigrant entrepreneur I have the privilege to meet is eager to tell me the story of how their family made it possible for them to succeed and give back to this country that welcomed them. Immigrants who come here with their families foster innovation and development of new businesses, particularly small and medium-sized businesses that would not otherwise exist, creating jobs for American workers and raising revenues for our recovering economy. Families also provide support and care for young children and the elderly, allowing others to focus on working and contributing to American society.”

“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 the 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.”

Although family unity is one of the primary goals of our immigration laws, the current system forces families to wait much too long to be together. Adult siblings of U.S. citizens can wait decades to reunite. Spouses and minor children of lawful permanent residents, or “green card holders,” can wait years to be together. This month, certain family members who filed a visa petition before July 15, 1989 were finally able to begin the process of joining close relatives in the United States.[1] To separate families for this long is contrary to our American values and the moral imperative to keep families together.

Every day, LIRS’s broad national network of service partners witness the importance of family unity across the diverse migrant communities who come to call the United States home – from refugees fleeing persecution to children who arrive alone to survivors of torture locked behind bars while they await justice. No matter how they came to be in our communities or where they came from, the love and support of family is essential to the long-term success and integration of new and aspiring Americans. Refugees and asylees in particular rely on our family-based immigration system to petition for a parent, married child, or sibling with whom they may only be able to reconnect years after coming to the United States and becoming citizens. Survivors of conflict and trauma benefit greatly from the ability to reunify with a close relative who can provide strength and comfort or even specialized care. The pain and frustration caused by our current inadequate system can also create an incentive for family members to migrate unlawfully.

In 2007, the Bush Administration proposed a major reduction in family-based immigration. Subsequently, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007 (S. 1348 in the 110th Congress) would have eliminated the ability of U.S. citizens to petition for adult children and siblings.. The bill proposed granting visas on a points-based system, devaluing family ties to the United States and reducing family-based visas to 200,000 people per year. After painstaking deliberation, LIRS opposed this bill, believing that this dramatic elimination would invariably change the face of America and fracture families whose prospects for full economic and social integration would be diminished if they were never able to reunite with their families.

LIRS also rejected later similar immigration reform bills in 2007 and refused to compromise on core American values of family unity, workers’ rights, and basic dignity in exchange for temporary, though important, provisions that would have improved the status quo for a significant number of immigrants. In the 113th Congress, LIRS supports legislation such as the Reuniting Families Act, H.R. 717, the passage of which would allow immigrants and their families to utilize legal immigration channels more efficiently, alleviate pressure on U.S. borders and continue to foster the development of vibrant American communities.

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 the 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 for 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, ending the hardships faced by families who remain separated.
  • Allow the spouse or child of a refugee to bring their children to the United States or follow to join the spouse or parent who was originally awarded refugee status. Admit children who have been living under the care of a refugee awarded status if it is in the best interest of that child join the refugee caregiver in the United States.
  • 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 are not subject to processing delays, and prevent delays for individuals whose family relationship or marital status changes while waiting for approval.
  • 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

  • The February 14, 2013 statement in support of the Reuniting Families Act, H.R. 717: www.bit.ly/YaFLMz
  • The January 29, 2013 press release on President Obama’s speech outlining a vision for immigration reform may be read here: www.bit.ly/VxQHYW
  • The January 28, 2013 press release on the release of the bipartisan principles for immigration reform in the Senate may be read here: www.bit.ly/WhPPX2
  • The Frequently Asked Questions resource on Family-Based Immigration may be read here: 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.

 


[1] Visa Bulletin, Department of State, http://travel.state.gov/visa/bulletin/bulletin_5885.html(March 2013).