Editor’s Note: The below editorial is a re-posting of the NY Times‘s “Time to Strengthen Family Immigration” which refers to the personal journey of our own Mazie Hirono. The editorial also references our friends at the Asian American Justice Center among others.
Time to Strengthen Family Immigration
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
Published: March 24, 2013 18 Comments
The momentum in Washington for immigration reform has been growing with amazing speed in recent weeks, and it seems that the question now is not whether Congress will try to fix the immigration system this year, but how big and effective the repairs will be. We hope that whatever bill emerges will continue to protect and unite families, preserving and strengthening a bedrock value of America’s immigration system.
It might be hard to imagine that America’s long tradition of allowing immigrants to sponsor spouses, children and siblings for visas would be threatened. But anti-immigration groups and lawmakers have long attacked the practice, using the slanderous and misleading term “chain migration,” which summons images of a relentless flow of undesirables, usually from south of the border. Even as some of the staunchest resistance to reform is crumbling — legalizing 11 million immigrants was unthinkable for leading Republicans a few months ago, and now even rock-ribbed Tea Partiers like Representative Rand Paul favor it — right-wing resistance to family migration persists.
Bills are still being drafted, but some lawmakers are reportedly trying to reduce or eliminate visas for extended family members in order to expand employment-based immigration. Advocates are resisting this zero-sum game.
These tensions emerged at a recent hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Mazie Hirono, Democrat of Hawaii, who led the hearing, spoke movingly of her own experience immigrating to Honolulu as a young girl, and yet joined other witnesses in explaining how the system falls short: she noted that it treats women unequally — many who arrive as dependent spouses are denied the right to work legally, and face discrimination and severe obstacles to assimilation. And Mee Moua, president of the Asian American Justice Center, explained how backlogs kept families separated for years, if not decades. “As of November 2012,” she said, “nearly 4.3 million close family members were waiting in the family-visa backlogs” — with Latino and Asian-American families most affected.
But even as Ms. Moua explained how important family visas are, Senator Jeff Sessions balked at the very concept. Using an example of two hypothetical Hondurans, he suggested that the visas were bad because some relatives can be underachievers. He ignored the powerful truth that family immigration is an economic bulwark. Families incubate job-creating businesses, provide a safety net for their members and hasten assimilation. Employment visas are important for companies to recruit needed workers. But these workers have spouses and children and siblings.
And we need workers at all levels of the economy: As Representative Luis Gutierrez of Illinois recently put it, “Silicon Valley engineers and entrepreneurs would not be very productive or competitive engines of our economy if they did not have food to eat, or people to care for their children or parents, or a clean office and clean clothes, or a made bed in their hotel room on a business trip.”
Immigration is more than a business relationship America has with selected foreigners. It’s a process that renews this country; it means going all-in on America, through binding ties of love and blood. Recruited workers enrich the country. Reunited families do, too.
A version of this editorial appeared in print on March 25, 2013, on page A22 of the New York edition with the headline: Time to Strengthen Family Immigration.