For too long our immigration system has had an exclusionary effect, leaving families separated and causing unimaginable heartache. Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders know this too well. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, for the first time in our nation’s history, excluded a group of people based purely on ethnicity.
The Chinese immigrants strengthened our nation’s infrastructure, only to be persecuted when their labor was seen as competition and when the dirtiest work was done. Their families excluded from our shores, these immigrants had to choose whether to remain in their new country, never to see their relatives again — or return permanently to China. Today, because of our broken immigration system, AAPIs experience a similar predicament. AAPIs sponsor nearly half of all family-based immigrants, yet wait decades in an immigration backlog. The wait time for a U.S. citizen petitioning for a brother or sister from the Philippines exceeds 20 years.
I commend the Senate “gang of eight” for forging a bipartisan immigration reform bill. I am concerned, however, that eliminating the ability of U.S. citizens to sponsor their brothers, sisters and married adult children for legal permanent residence will be disproportionately detrimental to AAPI families. The Philippines, Vietnam, India, China, Pakistan, South Korea and Bangladesh rank among the top countries with the largest number of siblings and married children awaiting immigrant visas. Exclusionary immigration legislation erodes the values that make America great; principles of love and family unite our nation. Now is the time to learn from our mistakes. Comprehensive immigration reform can correct ills of the past and honor the founding values of our nation.
As comprehensive immigration reform moves through the legislative process, we must ensure that family reunification remains the cornerstone of our immigration system. That is why I proudly stand with, and commend, Sen. Mazie K. Hirono of Hawaii for her courageous amendments filed in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Hirono’s amendments strengthen the bill’s family immigration system by restoring the adult married child and sibling categories for families looking to reunite with their loved ones. They also recognize the value of siblings and adult married children to families and America as a whole — they join the military, become teachers and work in our health care sector, among many other things.
The family is the basic unit of our society. That is why today’s immigration dialogue should not pit family against employment. Strong immigrant families start businesses that create jobs and contribute to our nation’s social and economic fabric. They enhance opportunities to establish roots in their communities and prosper together.
AAPIs, whether they are high-skilled tech workers, small-business owners, students or health care professionals, make profound contributions to America’s economic prosperity. My colleagues in Congress must not underestimate the power and concerns of the AAPI community.
A broad consensus of business, academic and policy leaders warn that the U.S. is on the verge of science and technology workforce shortages. AAPIs are twice as likely to hold jobs in these fields as any other immigrant group, with as many as 1 in 5 workers employed in the engineering and technology sector. Additionally, more than 63 percent of foreign-born science, technology, engineering and math graduates are Asian and Pacific Islander. These aspiring citizens and drivers of our global economic competitiveness should not be separated from their families. The community’s growth rate, buying power and political power are explosive and irrefutable. This is a presence that must not be ignored.
On both sides of the aisle, my colleagues agree that family values are quintessential to the moral, social and economic fabric of our society — and that families knit this nation together. As Congress deliberates comprehensive immigration reform, we must stay true to a shared vision of preserving and strengthening our families, and therefore, our economic prosperity.
We know, unquestionably, the value each family member brings to the table. Immigration issues are not new to AAPIs. The AAPI community’s history is the story of immigration in our nation. We have a story to tell — a dog in the fight. No family should be left out of the immigration system, and only by forging truly comprehensive immigration reform can we forge a more perfect union.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.