Proposed law puts curbs on family visas

Updated: 2013-06-27 11:32

By Joseph Boris in Washington (China Daily)

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Activists in the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities are bracing for changes to the US' immigration system that so far exclude many of their goals, but they also promise continued pressure on Congress to heed their concerns.

While praising some parts of a bipartisan immigration-reform bill now being debated in the Senate, the counterpart of which could reach the House of Representatives next week, leaders of several community groups criticized provisions that have been either left out or rolled back.

The pending Senate legislation, which could be voted on as soon as Friday, "includes many solutions that fix and enhance our broken immigration system. We are, however, very concerned that women and families could be disadvantaged by the dramatic shift away from the family-based system," Jacinta Ma, deputy director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, said in a conference call on Wednesday.

Ma and the heads of four other AAPI organizations stressed the importance to their communities of immigration policies that preserve unity of immediate families through broad categories of sponsorship for legal permanent residency by a relative already in the US as a citizen or "green card" holder.

The community leaders criticized the current bill's merit-based points system for giving preference to highly educated immigrants, thereby disadvantaging women, particularly those who are single, from countries where women's access to education is less than men's. They also lamented the elimination of the F4 visa category, which allows siblings to sponsor their brothers' and sisters' immigration, and an age cap of 31 for married sons or daughters seeking visa sponsorship by a parent in the US (F3 visas).

"The current Senate bill is a radical departure from the historic 1965 immigration law that allowed for immigration based on family ties. Separated family members are crying out against this attack on families," said Jenny Seon, immigration-policy director at the Korean Resource Center, affiliated with the National Korean American Service and Education Consortium.

In addition, the bill would restrict the ability of people who are in the country illegally but paying taxes, to access affordable health care and insurance through the upcoming changes to federal laws on health care and existing programs such as Medicaid.

"These political compromises are short-sighted and punitive," Kathy Ko Chin, president and CEO of the Asian and Pacific Islander Health Forum, said of the Senate bill, whose restrictions could be tightened further in the even-more-divided House.

Mari Quenemoen, policy manager at the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center, expressed dismay that the Senate bill "would only further entrench harsh, rigid policies that have resulted in widespread deportation in our communities".

On the positive side, the activists said, the bill provides for an overall increase in family- and employment-based visas that would significantly reduce the current backlog of applications. It would also raise the per-country cap on all family-sponsored visas to 15 percent from the current 7 percent.

Activists pointed out that Asian Americans are the fastest-growing racial group in the country and increasingly active politically, as well as the sponsors of a third of all family-based immigration applications.

Deepa Iyer, executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together, said, "We are deeply committed to the prospect of fair and holistic immigration reform."

(China Daily USA 06/27/2013 page2)