With anti-immigration sentiment holding the health care debate hostage, we cannot afford to delay comprehensive immigration reform any longer. The time is now, lest immigration be maligned further. A nation born of immigrants, whether Hispanic, Asian, African, gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, we are forgetting the forbearance shown our forefathers and forgoing the opportunity to pursue a more fiscally prudent immigration policy. That is, unless we keep families together.
Our family-based immigration system has not been updated in 20 years; with nearly 6 million people stuck in a perpetual wait, this is both insufferable and inexcusable. Five-year separations, keeping spouses, parents and children apart, are quite common; so are 20-year estrangements from siblings and elderly parents. Backlogs are so bad that families receiving visas often find out their children have to reapply as adults, and go to the back of the line, because so much time has passed. Disproportionately affecting Asian-Americans, Latinos and women, the lengthy waits waste precious government resources and discourage potential applicants from using legal channels to join their family in the United States.
In my district in California, two Silicon Valley engineers, Aung Moe and Vivek Jayanand, are longtime U.S. residents waiting on wives who remain overseas. Initially, as green-card holders, Moe and Jayanand were given two options, equally unenviable: Become U.S. citizens, a process that takes at least five years, or wait for visas for their spouse, a process that can take even longer. Meanwhile, our immigration system is sending them mixed messages. They are on the legal track to citizenship, but they remain separated from their families. The earliest their wives will arrive in the U.S. is summer 2010. This rationale is unsound.
Another constituent, Judy Rickard, will permanently leave America this November in an effort to keep her family together. Under U.S. law, she cannot be reunited with her partner, Karin Bogliolo, a UK national. Judy would have preferred to keep working at San Jose State University and sponsor Karin for residency in America, just as married heterosexual couples can. But U.S. law does not allow for that. Judy is taking early retirement from her 27-year employment at San Jose State. Facing reduced pension for the rest of her life, Judy is choosing Europe because our country will not let Judy and Karin live together. The result is a loss for my district and a loss for the university.
In an effort to safeguard Aung’s, Vivek’s and Judy’s families, I reintroduced the Reuniting Families Act (H.R. 2709) in Congress to allow all Americans to be reunited with their families. I did so because I know that the more educated, legal and healthy immigrants become, the higher their income, the higher their taxes paid, and the fewer emergency and social services used. Furthermore, the more reunited immigrants are, and thus happier, the fewer dollars we lose in remittances to other countries.
Failure to pass this legislation means failure to provide American workers with a critical support system. Families do together what they cannot do alone — start family businesses, create American jobs and contribute more to this country’s welfare.
Failure to reunite families means failure to keep communities healthy, physically and financially. A healthier family means a more expendable income and a lower burden on government social services. A reunited family keeps remittances stateside: U.S. remittances to Latin America alone totaled almost $46 billion in 2008. Of that, Mexico received almost $24 billion.
Failure is simply not feasible. We must seize every opportunity this year to get our economy back on track, and one clear way of doing so is to reunite America’s workers with their families. The irony with anti-immigration sentiment, which fears a further recessed economy if liberal legislation passes, is that, in fact, it is more fiscally prudent to pass policy that legalizes, insures, employs, reunites and educates our immigrants.
Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) is chairman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.