Family reunification should be at the core of immigration law
Charito, 83, wanted to file an immigrant petition for Ramona, her 48-year-old daughter, to come to the United States. She was informed that since her daughter was considered single as a result of the “annulment” of her marriage, it would be faster to petition her.
But Charito was told that this petition would take approximately 15 years. She burst into tears, lamenting that by the time the visa is made available to her daughter, she would be close to 98 years old.
Ramona’s US citizen-father filed a prior petition for her in 1996. Ramona waited 14 years for her visa to be processed. Unfortunately, when her petition’s priority date became current last year, her father suffered a heart attack and died. It was only recently that Charito re-filed a new petition.
Charito is hoping that during her lifetime, immigration rules will change and that she will be reunited with her daughter in the US before nature takes its course.
Unless the person being petitioned is a minor child, parent, spouse or fiancé, the waiting period for an immigrant visa can take five, 10 or even 20 years. The reason for this protracted wait is that there are more visa applicants than the number of visas available each year.
For December 2011, the US Department of State is processing visa petitions for Filipino nationals that were filed on or before March 1, 1997, July 8, 1992 and September 8, 1988 for unmarried children, married children and siblings of US citizens, respectively. The longest waiting period is 23 years for siblings of US citizens. For married children the wait is approximately 19 years.
Resolving the Backlog
The family is the cornerstone of US immigration. But the policy of the current administration does not seem to recognize the importance of reuniting even the closest family members. When there is family unity, a stronger immigrant society emerges, resulting in a strong economic base. The US really needs to revisit its family immigrant policy.
One legislator in Illinois, Representative Luis Gutierrez, is a strong advocate of family unity. Considering that comprehensive immigration reform may be difficult to pass, he and other supporters have proposed adding more visas for family preferences. This proposal was actually incorporated in the recent H.R. 3012, which increased the visa quota of each country from seven to 15 percent. This proposal is expected to decrease the backlog and hopefully the 18-year wait may be reduced to 10 years.
This bill was passed overwhelmingly in the House of Representatives but it is being held in the Senate. A few days ago, Senator Grassley proposed amendments to the bill to delete the proposal to increase the visa quota for family immigration. Whether Senator Grassley will prevail remains to be seen. His amendment will have a negative impact on family petitions.
A broken system
There are perennial cases of undocumented immigrants, usually family members who try to enter through the backdoor. There is no excuse for violating existing laws. But in reality, the desire to be reunited with family members compel many to use extra-legal means.
This Christmas day, balikbayans who are able to celebrate the holidays with their families should feel blessed and be grateful. For not all who are abroad are able to reunite with their families for varying reasons. Aling Charito is one example. She has health issues and financial restrictions that hinder her from returning to the Philippines to be with her children.
We all should be thankful wherever we may be this season, especially if we are with our loved ones. Family is not just the cornerstone of immigration. It is the very foundation of our existence, the source of our strength and the reason for our being. Merry Christmas to all!
(Tancinco may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 887 7177 or 721 1963)