Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), Chuck Hagel (R-NE) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) today introduced an amendment to the Border Security and Immigration Reform Act of 2007 that would remove barriers to reunification for the nuclear families of lawful permanent residents. The amendment would reclassify the spouses and minor children of lawful permanent immigrants as "immediate relatives," thereby exempting them from the visa caps.
"The United States is a country built by immigrants, but our laws are tearing legal immigrant families apart," said Senator Clinton. "Hundreds of thousands of lawful permanent residents have been waiting for years to be reunited with their spouses and children due to visa backlogs. These are taxpaying, law-abiding residents. These are people who otherwise would be admitted into this country, but they are forced to wait because of a tragic numbers game. It is unconscionable that they are being forced to choose between their family and their newly adopted country."
"This amendment is about fundamental fairness. The families of legal permanent residents of this country who are playing by the rules should not be penalized because our current immigration system is paralyzed with backlogs," Senator Hagel said.
Sen. Robert Menendez said, "We are facing a fundamental change to the values of our immigration system. The bedrock principle of family would be drastically diminished under this deal. Passing this amendment would promote social stability and show that family values do not, in fact, end at the Rio Grande, as the president likes to say."
Due to backlogs, the current waiting time for the spouse or minor children of a lawful permanent resident to obtain a green card is as much as five to ten years. During this waiting period, the spouse or child is not allowed to enter the United States, even for a brief visit. At the same time, the legal permanent resident is required to reside predominantly in the United States - otherwise he or she risks losing their permanent residency status.
Legal permanent residents are the only immigrants subjected to these requirements. Under current law, United States citizens can bring their foreign-born spouses and minor children into the country without any real wait. So too can students, temporary workers, and others. Only lawful permanent residents must wait years apart from their spouses and minor children.
According to the State Department, currently hundreds of thousands of lawful permanent residents are waiting for their spouses' or children's green card petitions to be processed. The separation is not only inhumane and inconsistent with our nation's commitment to the value and importance of nuclear families, but it exacts an economic toll, as lawful immigrants who are productive members of society move out of the country to rejoin their families. Moreover, barriers to reunification with immediate family members create an undesirable incentive to break the law and live in the U.S. illegally.
The Clinton-Hagel-Menendez amendment is garnering widespread support:
"This amendment would establish that America is committed to the principle of keeping families together. By passing it we are saying that legal permanent residents should be able to reunite with their spouses and minor children without waiting in the huge backlogs which separate them under current law. This amendment is good for America's families, and good for the country as a whole," said Janet Murgia, President of National Council of La Raza.
"We applaud Senators Clinton, Hagel and Menendez for cosponsoring this very important amendment. The proposed bill does not address the five or more year backlog facing spouses and minor children of legal permanent residents nor does it provide a sufficient number of visas in the future. In order for the reform to achieve the goal of reducing the push to come illegally, we must reduce the time that spouses and minor children are separate from each other," said Karen K. Narasaki, President of the Asian American Justice Center.
"Senator Clinton has consistently provided leadership on this issue. She has never lost sight of the real families and children impacted by our broken immigration system," said Reverend Luis Cortés, Founder and President of Esperanza, the largest Hispanic Evangelical organization. "Senator Clinton's amendment would help reunite families now torn apart because of an unfair policy, and I want to thank her for her courage and commitment to fixing this injustice."
"Our concern is for the husbands, wives and children who in fact are immediate family members of people we have invited into this country as permanent residents. By lifting the cap on these close family members, the amendment that Senators Clinton, Hagel and Menendez have proposed will ensure that these families are not pointlessly separated," said Gideon Aronoff, President and CEO of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS).
"The Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service applauds Senators Clinton, Hagel and Menendez for putting the principle of 'families first' back into this legislation. This amendment makes it possible for thousands of spouses and young children who have been separated from their families for an average of nearly 5 years to reunite far more quickly. Bringing families together is a core American value that LIRS stands firmly behind," said Gregory Chen, Director for Legislative Affairs, the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.
"Families are the building blocks of an ordered and procreative society through which people are able to grow and experience the love of God. Our government must promote laws and policies that strengthen the well-being of all families- including immigrant families. It is through families that our communities are more stable and stronger and the Clinton-Hagel amendment would allow those who have waited legally, the right way, to be more quickly reunited with their loved ones. World Relief commends Senator Clinton, Senator Hagel and Senator Menendez's commitment to the issue of family reunification within the Comprehensive Immigration Reform debate and looks to their leadership to continue to place priority on the value of family," said Dan Kosten, Director of the World Relief Refugee and Immigration Programs.
"The amendment to exempt the spouses and minor children of LPRs from visa caps resonates with the Latino community, which puts such a high premium on family reunification. The current backlog tears families apart unnecessarily and is contrary to our core American value of family unity. We support any and all efforts to keep our families together and protect the rights of legal, tax paying immigrants," said Eric M. Gutierrez, Legislative Staff Attorney, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF).
"The amendment to be offered by Senators Clinton, Hagel and Menendez helps restore an element of family unity to the Senate compromise bill. As proposed, the legislation leaves family values at the Rio Grande," said Kevin Appleby, Director, Migration and Refugee Policy, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The Border Security and Immigration Reform Act of 2007 would not raise the visa cap on the spouses and minor children of lawful permanent residents at all and even lowers it slightly. Unlike other family preference categories, the Act also does not allocate any additional visas to reducing the backlog for the spouses and minor children of lawful permanent residents. Thus, unless amended, the Act ensures that backlogs will continue if enacted.