Reuniting Families Act Helps Immigrants Who Play By the Rules

Written by on June 4, 2009 in Legislation, Reform with 8 Comments

Although many people associate comprehensive immigration reform solely with issues of legalization and deportation of undocumented immigrants, the truth is that millions of legal immigrants are also victims of our broken immigration system—a system that has been floundering for the last 20 years.

This week, Congressman Mike Honda will reinforce that point when he introduces the House version of The Reuniting Families Act of 2009, a bill that would end lengthy wait times for U.S. citizens and permanent residents separated from their foreign-born loved ones. The Asian American Justice Center, a leader on family immigration issues, estimates that 5.8 million people—a yearly average of 20,000 people—are currently in immigration processing backlogs, kept from the family members by arbitrary caps, processing delays, and an outdated system. Some family members—like those from China, the Philippines and India—wait up to 5, 10 or 20 years before they are reunited with their loved ones.

Congressman Honda’s bill is a companion to a similar bill introduced last month by Senators Menendez, Schumer, Gillibrand, and Kennedy. Both bills propose common sense changes to current procedures, including:

  • Authorizing the use of family-based and employment-based visas previously allocated by Congress which remain unused.
  • Allowing current and future green card holders to reunite with their spouses and minor children immediately, rather than wait five years or more to bring loved ones together.
  • Increasing the percentage of people from any country who may be given green cards each year. This adjustment would not change overall visa numbers.
  • Allowing orphans, widows and widowers whose parent or spouse dies before the immigration process is completed to become legal residents if qualified.
  • Promoting family unity by allowing more people to use the system: The bill gives the Attorney General greater flexibility to address numerous hardships, including family separation, caused by a provision that bars individuals who had been unlawfully present in the United States from utilizing our legal immigration system.
  • Recognizing the sacrifices that certain World War II Filipino veterans made for this country by allowing their children to become legal residents regardless of any numerical limits that apply to the Philippines.

The Honda bill would also ends discrimination in immigration law, allowing same-sex partners to reunite under specified conditions by including provisions of a bill championed by Senator Leahy and others. This provision adds another layer of opportunity or complication to immigration reform, depending on one’s point of view.

While Honda’s Reuniting Families Act would make a difference on its own, it is generally a very modest proposal to clean up, rather than expand, the current immigration system. Thus, its real strength lies in promoting a debate over the role of the family in immigration reform. Honda said in a statement:

The Reuniting Families Act should be at the heart of comprehensive immigration reform, seeking to fix our broken immigration system while taking into account the current economic climate. By providing American workers with a vital social safety net-that is, their family—we help make our communities stronger and more resilient. The benefits here cannot be overstated. American workers with families by their side are happier, healthier and more able to succeed than those distanced from loved ones for years on end.

Having strong champions for family reunification increases the chances that family issues will have an important seat at the table during comprehensive immigration reform. In turn, this ensures that more voices are heard in the debate and makes sure that legal immigrants and their families are not discounted in the decisions Congress makes about how to divvy up the immigration pie. The failure of the 2007 Senate bill, in which family issues were essentially pitted against other immigration reforms—winner take all style—reminds us all that family issues matter to the American public.

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  • isaac

    I really appreciate the effort of the cogressman Mike Honda who has taken it upon himself to spearhead the “Reuniting Family Acts of 2009”.People like this really knows where it pinches.Being away from you spouse and small children is the greatest sacrifice one can ever make.We are tired of being alone.If you travel outside the US for six months to visit your family, you green card might be siezed from you, still they won’t give even temporary visa to your wife or husband to visit you.My case is quite unique because i just got married less than a year.It has resulted in family seperation,emotional breakdown,mental inbalance and attention being divided etc.If those who are here on student visa and guest worker can be alowed to come in with their families, why won’t America allow legal immigrant[those who play by the rule and follow procedures and enter the US] to be allowed to come in with their families?America itself finally realises that the immigration laws does not benefits the legal immigrants and if indeed they value family, then i do not see any reason why common sense should not come in to this aspect of family reunification.I do not oppose legalizing the undocumented, but family reunification must come first.If the family of immigrants who are on the line can be patience, the the undocumented should go back to the line.Immediates family of a legal immigrant shouldn’t wait at all before he or she qualifies for visa number.With the help of our congressman and others who knows the value of family staying together,we believe congress will act responsibly towards reunifying families.the family that stays together succeed together.America should avoid marriage breakdown.

  • medina

    I hope this does happen soon. Im tired of crossing the border every weekend with my kids for visitation. This costs us money and is unsafe. Just like our failed system…

  • Mapida

    My husband and I are living and working here, I hope and I pray every day for that happen very soon, it’s unfair we need our family together, we can’t wait to have our daugthers here with us, I’m agree with medina I do not oppose legalizing undocumented, but I think our case need help pretty soon, the Family can’t be separate.
    God bless everyone.

  • Elyas

    I am a Legal permanent resident. I have studied in the U.S. worked here initially on a work visa legally, and became a Permanent resident, not because my country is missing opportunities, but because I believe in this country.
    I work for a Federal Govt Agency, providing services everyday that should make american lives better.
    I got married a year ago to a person I fell in love with, she lives outside of the U.S. and she has to wait years maybe before she can join me here. We gave ourselves a deadline after which we will have to make a decision. Should one love for the United states of america means destroying ones family?

  • Emoreno

    I hope something is done soon, my family has been separated we are waiting for a response of I-601 waiver. I was left with four children suffering emotionally and financially. I am tired of traveling to the boarder exposing to the dangers just so my baby can bond with his father. I lost my house, job and in court due to my ex wanting to take my older children. I am losing strength it been a year. I disparity want my family back together. This is unfair and in human. I regret putting my husband immigration paper in process so bad.

  • Shelly

    Something needs to change. My family was torn apart 3 yrs ago. If any one has updates would be happy to hear them. I am trying to navigate the system on my own because an atty is expensive and I am single parenting my children.

  • This is to inform you that a class action lawsuit has been initated by US Citizens married to undocumented ho cannot adjust status in the US against immigration for damages incurred as a result of the bars and also argue that the 601 waiver needs to be decided by a jury not an immigration officer. Anyone interested in joining this action can contact us at 862-234-2900 or e-mail us at:

  • Patrizia Di Gregorio

    I was taken from my family and AMERICAN CITIZEN CHILDREN that were only 3 & 5 years old at the time I was deported. We have been separated for almost 12 years. My children now age 17 & 19 don’t want to leave the USA to move to Italy and leave their dad, family, and friends. My AMERICAN CITIZEN dad in NYS that is not able to travel because he is old, handicapped, and ill. He will die someday and I will not be able to see him again unless I enter the USA. America please wake- up – treat each case different. We are not ALIENS we are HUMANS!