Families look for relief from US immigration bill

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Maricris Arce poses for a picture at her home in Anaheim, California Friday. Arce, a native of the Philippines, said she was separated from her husband for five years after coming legally to the US, and he wasn’t present for the birth of their first child. AP

WASHINGTON— If America is a nation of immigrants, it’s also a nation of immigrants’ husbands, wives, parents and children — and their brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews too.

That could begin to change under legislation being written in the Senate, where the nation’s longstanding emphasis on family-based immigration is coming under scrutiny.

Unlike most other industrialized nations, the US awards a much larger proportion of permanent residency status to family members of US citizens and permanent residents than to foreigners with job prospects here. About two-thirds of permanent legal immigration to the US is family-based, compared with about 15 percent that is employment-based, according to the Migration Policy Institute. The remainder is largely humanitarian.

It’s a lopsided ratio that may change under a bill being crafted by a Senate bipartisan negotiating group that is aiming to release legislation next month.

Several senators involved in the talks said employment-based immigration must increase to help American competitiveness and the US economy. High-tech companies have been pleading for more workers, and some Republicans, in particular, believe the educational backgrounds and employment potential of prospective immigrants should be a bigger part of the calculus in awarding green cards, the permanent resident visas that are the key step toward citizenship.

“In the 21st century, more of our immigration needs to be based on merit and skill,” said Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a member of the “Gang of Eight” senators negotiating an immigration bill.

The senators’ proposals are still evolving and details remain unclear. For advocates of family-based immigration, the key question has become whether the increased focus on employment-based immigration will come in addition to the family-based system — or to its detriment.

“Family unity has been the cornerstone of our immigration system for decades and should remain so,” said Kevin Appleby, director of migration policy at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. “We’re concerned that the family-based system is vulnerable and that visas could be taken away or categories could be eliminated, and we would strongly oppose that.”

Under current law, US citizens can petition to bring their spouses, parents and minor unmarried children into the country without any limit on the number coming in. There are caps on all other categories, including petitions for citizens’ adult or married children, citizens’ brothers and sisters and their children and the immediate family members of legal permanent residents. The law also caps the percentage of immigrants that can come from any one country in a year.

These limitations have led to a backlog of more than four million family members of US citizens and permanent residents who must wait in their home countries for years before coming to the US. Filipinos in the sibling category can face waits of more than 20 years before they can join family here, advocates said.

Maricris Arce, 43, a native of the Philippines who now lives in Anaheim, California, said she was separated from her husband for five years after coming legally to the US, and he wasn’t present for the birth of their first child.

“I think they need to change that law,” Arce said. “Let them come faster and easier so the family will be united.”

President Barack Obama and the Senate negotiators have committed to reducing the existing backlog of people waiting for family visas, and this would probably happen by adding visas to speed the process. The bill would also probably raise the country cap that limits any one country to 7 percent of total immigrants per year, probably to 15 percent.

Those changes are good news for advocates of family immigration, who are also encouraged by Obama’s longstanding commitment to family unification and pledges by Democrats in the negotiating group, including Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, to safeguard the family system. Obama is preparing his own immigration bill to unveil if the Senate process stalls.

The more contentious decisions will surround whether any of the current family categories — such as sibling — is reduced or eliminated. Lawmakers have made such attempts in the past, arguing that a focus on immediate family members is more appropriate. Such changes could mean that people who once would have eventually been eligible for US citizenship wouldn’t have that opportunity.

It also remains to be seen whether lawmakers choose to make more green cards available overall, as advocates want, or shift visas from the family category to boost employment categories. Another question is how quickly illegal immigrants who would be put on a path to citizenship by the new bill could petition to reunite with family members.

Advocates say senators could end up crafting a hybrid system that weights family ties in addition to work skills, something Rubio suggested could happen.

“We’re still going to have a family-based part of it. I believe that having family in the US is one of the indicators of success,” said Rubio, who’s talked about his own family members from Cuba coming to the US through the family immigration system. “It’s just some of the folks that are coming on family-based will be able to come on the skill-based as well. They’re not mutually exclusive.”

Depending on how it’s crafted, any new system could become an unexpected flashpoint in the immigration debate. In the last round of immigration negotiations in 2007, the Catholic Church ended up opposing action on the bill in part because of discomfort with a proposal that replaced the family-based system with one that awarded points based on job skills, English ability, education and family ties in handing out visas. It’s possible that some aspects of that approach may be adopted this time as well, according to a Senate aide.

Senators say they’ll attempt to strike a balance, but some fear that in the end, more job-based immigration could come at the expense of family members overseas.

“We’re going to expedite some of the family stuff initially, but over time it’s got to be more merit-based,” said Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, one of the Senate negotiators.

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  • pasaway008ako

    US Immigration laws should forget about the caps and focus on the ability of the petitioner if he can support his family the moment they come over to the US. That’s what matters and not politics!!! 

    • BIGButo

      Illegal immigrants should be deported just like the Philippines and almost all other nations in the world period

  • riza888

    About 70% of immigration is family-based. In other words, most of US’ immigration is not based on skills, or needs of the country. The US is admitting many family members who are drains on the system.
    US needs to REDUCE family immigration to the nuclear family: spouses and children under age 18.

    • kanoy

      I DON’T KNOW WHAT THIS GAL TERMS AS ”LEGAL” NO BODY WHOSE INTENT WAS OF A SUBVERSIVE NATURE CAN CALL UPON THE LAW TO MAKE ANYTHING LEGAL,,,,HER INTENT UPON ENTERING THE USA IS QUITE CLEAR….ANCHOR BABY.
      SHE KNEW SHE WAS PREGNANT WHEN SHE LEFT THE RP….SO DID HER HUSBAND….SHE KNEW WHEN THE BABY WAS BORN IN THE US IT WAS A CITIZEN,,,SO DID HER HUSBAND…SO SHE ENTERED UNDER FALSE PRETENSES… AN ILLEGAL ACT NOW SHE WHIMPERS FOR US LAW TO MAKE IT LEGAL?
      IF HER HUSBAND LOVES HER THE BABY THE PHILIPPINES TELL HER TO PACK THAT BABY UP AND RETURN HERE
      TAKE NOTE JUST THE OPENING LINE IS ABOUT THIS LEECH ARCY…NOTHING ABOUT WHAT MADE HER ENTRY LEGAL NOTHING AS TO THE TYPE OF VISA SHE ENTERED ON AND EXCEPTIONALLY NOTED ARE HER WORDS?>>>

      Arce, a native of the Philippines, said she was separated from her husband for five years after coming legally to the US, and he wasn’t present for the birth of their first child.

      SHE SAYS SHE HAS BEEN SEPARATED FROM HER HUSBAND 5 YRS, SO………
      WHO FATHERED CHILD 2-3-4????

      • riza888

        End birthright citizenship!

      • kanoy

         lol what they could do is revise it,,do ya know if a pinay gives birth on a plane flying over us airspace…the baby is a citizen?

        they should make immigration laws that equal each countries acceptance of us citizens….so if filipinos want to be us citizens they should have to pay 2 mullion-3 million peso each,,,they also should pay 6000 peso every 2 months and leave the usa yearly

      • flo167

        I see you pay attention to the details of the story, but regarding the last sentence, Are you insinuating she was unfaithful to her husband?
        Did you even consider that she had more children after her husband came to US legally? or that is too hard to figure out

      • kanoy

        ME SUGGEST SHE WAS UNFAITHFUL? NAH SHE SAID FIRST BORN (IF SHE WAS REAL)  Maricris Arce poses for a picture at her home in Anaheim, California Friday
        Friday had to be February 15th, 2013 because this story was posted Wensday February 20th, 2013

        …Arce,said she was separated from her husband for five years after coming legally to the US, and he wasn’t present for the birth of their first child.,,,FIRST CHILD

        NOW YOU ASK ME HOW DO I KNOW THE OTHER KIDS ARE NOT HIS,,,THAT HE DID NOT GO TO THE USA YET….

         Filipinos in the sibling category can face waits of more than 20 years before they can join family here, advocates said.

        Maricris Arce, 43, a native of the Philippines who now lives in Anaheim, California, said she was separated from her husband for five years after coming legally to the US, and he wasn’t present for the birth of their first child.

        “I think they need to change that law,” Arce said. “Let them come faster and easier so the family will be united.”
        NO WHERE IN HER STORY DOES SHE EXPRESS RELIEF AND GRATITUDE THAT NOW SHE AND HER HUSBAND ARE UNITED,,,,SO THEY ARE NOT….IF THIS STORY WAS TRUE…WHICH I DOUBT

        THIS IS A FORM LETTER PUT OUT BY THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY (I VOTED OBAMA TWICE) TO TRY AND DRUM UP SUPPORT TO HELP PUSH THROUGH HIS IMMIGRATION BILL,,,I WOULD VENTURE TO GUESS THEY USED ”MRS ARCE” PREFERRABLY TO ”JANE DOE” AND THE 5 YR HUSBAND POINT AS A TYPICAL TYPE OF ISSUE

        I THINK THIS BECAUSE THIS EXACT ARTICLE APPEARS IN DOZENS OF USA;;MEXICO,,,RP PAPERS VERBATUM IRREGARDLESS OF THE BYLINE OR PAPER

      • BIGButo

        She is probably a whore

  • BIGButo

    These immigrants must learn to obey the law not just keep doing anything they want to do.

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