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Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Location: Washington, DC


S. 2071. A bill to expand the definition of immediate relative for purposes of the Immigration and Nationality Act; to the Committee on the Judiciary.

Mr. KOHL. Mr. President, I rise today with Senator KENNEDY to introduce the Family Reunification Act, a measure designed to remedy a regrettable injustice in our immigration laws. A minor oversight in the law has led to an unfortunate, and likely unintended, consequence. Parents of U.S. citizens are currently able to enter the country as legal permanent residents, but our laws do not permit their minor children to join them. Simply put, the Family Reunification Act will close this loophole by including the minor siblings of U.S. citizens in the definition of "immediate relative." This legislation will ensure that our immigration laws can better accomplish one of the most important policy goals behind them-the goal of strengthening the family unit.

Congress took an important first step in promoting family reunification when it enacted the Immigration and Nationality Act. By qualifying as "immediate relatives," this law currently offers parents, spouses and children of U.S. citizens the ability to obtain immigrant visas to enter this country legally.

This we can all agree is good immigration policy. Unfortunately, a "glitch" in this law has put numerous families in an uncomfortable predicament. One of these unlucky families lives in my home Sate of Wisconsin. Effiong and Ekom Okon, both U.S. citizens by birth and graduates of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, requested that their parents be admitted to the United States from Nigeria as "immediate relatives." The law clearly allows for this. Their father, Leo Okon, has already joined them in Wisconsin, and their mother, Grace, is currently in possession of an immigrant visa. However, Grace is unable to join her husband and sons in the United States because her six-year-old daughter, Daramfon, does not qualify as an "immediate relative" under current immigration law. Because it would be unthinkable for her to abandon her small child, Grace has been forced to stay behind in Nigeria, separated from the rest of her family.

This family is truly an American success story, one of first-generation citizens graduating from a top University. They want to continue to contribute to society and want to bring their family with them. Unfortunately, current immigration law only permits some members of their immediate family to join them, but not all. This is clearly wrong.

It is difficult to determine the scope of this problem. Because minor siblings do not qualify for visas, the Department of Homeland Security does not keep track of how many families have been adversely affected. However, DHS employees have assured us that the Okons are not unique. In fact, this is an all too common occurrence. If only one family suffers because of this loophole, changes must be made. The fact that there have been numerous cases demands changes now.

Many parts of our immigration laws are outdated, unfair, and in need of repair. The definition of "immediate relative" is no different. Congress' intent when it grated "immediate relatives" the right to obtain immigrant visas was to promote family reunification, but the unfortunate oversight highlighted has interfered with many families' opportunities to do just that. The legislation introduced today would expand the definition of "immediate relatives" to include the minor siblings of U.S. citizens. By doing so, we can truly provide these families with the ability to reunite and the chance to take advantage of the many great opportunities our country has to offer. This is a simple and modest solution to an unthinkable problem that too many families have already had to face.

I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the RECORD.

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