WASHINGTON, D.C. — Worried that the federal immigration proposal expected to be unveiled Thursday will call for cutting immigration for some familiy members of U.S. residents, hundreds of Asian-American advocates rallied Wednesday morning outside the nation’s Capitol.
Speaking to the activists, Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono, who is taking a leading role on clearing the decades-long backlog of family members awaiting to immigrate, called on any immigration reform to include the concept of family reunification.
Hirono spoke of leaving her brother in Japan when she and her mother immigrated to the Unted States when she was 8. She said her brother and her grandparents were able to join them a few years later to reunify the family. But she said, “millions of families are still waiting to reunify.”
What concerns activists are reports that Democrats among the bipartisan Gang of Eight senators working on comprehensive reform believe they need to tighten immigration based on family ties. The Democrats may need that concession in order to get Republicans onboard with giving other undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship and to allow more people to enter the U.S. on work visas. Reportedly, the senators are talking about eliminating visa categories to allow siblings and adult married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens to immigrate.
The issue is of particular concern to Hawaii and its large Asian immigrant population. Complex immigration laws limit how many people can immigrate in total and from each country. Residents of countries with high numbers of citizenship applications — most notably Mexico, the Philippines, China and India — face the longest wait times, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
The law sets annual limits for categories of family members, which also depend on the countries and the number of applications. According to the institute, the wait for Filipino spouses and children of U.S. citizens is about two years, but it is nearly 15 years for adult unmarried children, more than 20 years for married children and more than 25 years for the siblings of U.S. citizens.
Inn an interview after the speech, Hirono said only that she remains optimistic the Senate proposal will make it easier for immigrant families to enter the United States.
Aside from the issue of family visas is the related issue of Filipino World War II veterans who are seeking to have their families exempted from the annual limits to reunification with relatives who want to enter the United States.
A Senate proposal that does not address the long waits for family members, or eliminates the classifications, would pose a difficult political decision for Asian immigration activists.
Deepa Iyer, executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together, acknowledged that supporting an immigration bill that helps undocumented immigrants but tightens family visas would be “a hard question. We’re going to have to see.”
But through rallies like today’s, she said, groups would push for easier family immigration in the weeks of debate to come after the bill is introduced.
Speaking at the rally, U.S. Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, said of the need to reduce family visas to allow others to become citizens, “immigration is not a zero sum game.”
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