clear
Thursday February 11th, 2016 4:20PM

Family-based immigration emphasis under scrutiny

By The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) -- If America is a nation of immigrants, it's also a nation of immigrants' husbands, wives, parents and children - and their brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews too.

That could begin to change under legislation being written in the Senate, where the nation's longstanding emphasis on family-based immigration is coming under scrutiny.

Unlike most other industrialized nations, the U.S. awards a much larger proportion of green cards to family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents than to foreigners with job prospects here. About two-thirds of permanent legal immigration to the U.S. is family-based, compared with about 15 percent that is employment-based, according to the Migration Policy Institute. The remainder is largely humanitarian.

It's a lopsided ratio that may change under a bill being crafted by a Senate bipartisan negotiating group that is aiming to release legislation next month.

Several senators involved in the talks said employment-based immigration must increase to help American competitiveness and the U.S. economy. High-tech companies have been pleading for more workers, and some Republicans, in particular, believe the educational backgrounds and employment potential of prospective immigrants should be a bigger part of the calculus in awarding green cards, the permanent resident visas that are the key step toward citizenship.

"In the 21st century, more of our immigration needs to be based on merit and skill," said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a member of the "Gang of Eight" senators negotiating an immigration bill.

The senators' proposals are still evolving and details remain unclear. For advocates of family-based immigration, the key question has become whether the increased focus on employment-based immigration will come in addition to the family-based system - or to its detriment.

"Family unity has been the cornerstone of our immigration system for decades and should remain so," said Kevin Appleby, director of migration policy at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "We're concerned that the family-based system is vulnerable and that visas could be taken away or categories could be eliminated, and we would strongly oppose that."

Under current law, U.S. citizens can petition to bring their spouses, parents and minor unmarried children into the country without any limit on the number coming in. There are caps on all other categories, including petitions for citizens' adult or married children, citizens' brothers and sisters and their children and the immediate family members of legal permanent residents. The law also caps the percentage of immigrants that can come from any one country in a year.

These limitations have led to a backlog of more than 4 million family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who must wait in their home countries for years before coming to the U.S. Filipinos in the sibling category can face waits of more than 20 years before they can join family here, advocates said.

Maricris Arce, 43, a native of the Philippines who now lives in Anaheim, Calif., said she was separated from her husband for five years after coming legally to the U.S., and he wasn't present for the birth of their first child.

"I think they need to change that law," Arce said. "Let them come faster and easier so the family will be united."

President Barack Obama and the Senate negotiators have committed to reducing the existing backlog of people waiting for family visas, and this would probably happen by adding visas to speed the process. The bill would also probably raise the country cap that limits any one country to 7 percent of total immigrants per year, probably to 15 percent.

Those changes are good news for advocates of family immigration, who are also encouraged by Obama's longstanding commitment to family unification and pledges by Democrats in the negotiating group, including Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., to safeguard the family system. Obama is preparing his own immigration bill to unveil if the Senate process stalls.

The more contentious decisions will surround whether any of the current family categories - such as sibling - is reduced or eliminated. Lawmakers have made such attempts in the past, arguing that a focus on immediate family members is more appropriate. Such changes could mean that people who once would have eventually been eligible for U.S. citizenship wouldn't have that opportunity.

It also remains to be seen whether lawmakers choose to make more green cards available overall, as advocates want, or shift visas from the family category to boost employment categories. Another question is how quickly illegal immigrants who would be put on a path to citizenship by the new bill could petition to reunite with family members.

Advocates say senators could end up crafting a hybrid system that weights family ties in addition to work skills, something Rubio suggested could happen.

"We're still going to have a family-based part of it. I believe that having family in the U.S. is one of the indicators of success," said Rubio, who's talked about his own family members from Cuba coming to the U.S. through the family immigration system. "It's just some of the folks that are coming on family-based will be able to come on the skill-based as well. They're not mutually exclusive."

Depending on how it's crafted, any new system could become an unexpected flashpoint in the immigration debate. In the last round of immigration negotiations in 2007, the Catholic Church ended up opposing action on the bill in part because of discomfort with a proposal that replaced the family-based system with one that awarded points based on job skills, English ability, education and family ties in handing out visas. It's possible that some aspects of that approach may be adopted this time as well, according to a Senate aide.

Senators say they'll attempt to strike a balance, but some fear that in the end, more job-based immigration could come at the expense of family members overseas.

"We're going to expedite some of the family stuff initially, but over time it's got to be more merit-based," said Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., one of the Senate negotiators.
© Copyright 2016 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
S&P 500 index has its best year since 1997
The stock market closed out a record year with more all-time highs on Tuesday, giving U.S. indexes their biggest annual gains in almost two decades.
6:56PM ( 2 years ago )
Colorado readies for 'Green Wednesday' pot sales
Police were adding extra patrols around pot shops in eight Colorado towns that plan to allow recreational sales to anyone over 21 on Jan. 1.
1:52PM ( 2 years ago )
Kerry seeks framework for Mideast peace talks
A senior State Department official says Secretary of State John Kerry will try this week to get Israel and the Palestinians to agree on a framework for negotiating a final peace agreement, yet cautions against raising expectations for Kerry's latest round of shuttle diplomacy.
1:35PM ( 2 years ago )
U.S. News
Missing Ga. bank director arrested in Brunswick
A bank director accused of losing millions of investors' dollars before vanishing last year was arrested Tuesday during a traffic stop in a city in south Georgia.
7:00PM ( 2 years ago )
Amtrak to suspend some Crescent service in Jan., Feb.
Amtrak service will shut down in parts of the Southeast for several days in January and February for rail maintenance by Norfolk Southern Railway.
9:00AM ( 2 years ago )
Lung cancer scans urged for some smokers, not all
Certain current or former heavy smokers should start getting yearly scans for lung cancer to cut their risk of death from the nation's top cancer killer, government advisers said Monday - even as they stressed that the tests aren't for everyone.
7:26AM ( 2 years ago )
Business News
Sex offender held in Hall County for failing to register
A 47-year-old man was booked into the Hall County Jail Tuesday, being held without bond for allegedly failing to register as a sex offender, his second such arrest.
6:09PM ( 2 years ago )
Pharmacy robberies may involve same suspect
Oakwood Police Tuesday afternoon released details in a pharmacy robbery they're investigating, similar to one that happened in the Hall County Tuesday morning.
5:46PM ( 2 years ago )
Victim critical following apartment fire
A 41-year-old woman was in critical but stable condition Tuesday after being rescued from an apartment fire in Forsyth County late Monday afternoon.
3:16PM ( 2 years ago )
Local/State News
Feeling US snub, Saudis strengthen ties elsewhere
Increasingly vocal in its frustration over U.S. policies in the Mideast, Saudi Arabia is strengthening ties elsewhere, seeking out an alignment that will bolster its position after it was pushed to the sidelines this year.
4:34PM ( 2 years ago )
NSA reportedly intercepts computer deliveries
A German magazine has lifted the lid on the operations of the National Security Agency's hacker unit, revealing how American spies intercepted computer deliveries, exploited hardware vulnerabilities, and even hijacked Microsoft's bug report system to spy on their targets.
12:31PM ( 2 years ago )
Rockets fired from Lebanon into Israel
Rockets from Lebanon struck northern Israel on Sunday, causing no injuries but sparking an Israeli reprisal shelling in a rare flare-up between the two countries.
12:26PM ( 2 years ago )
Politics
New details about the possible effects of the Zika virus on the fetal brain are emerging
WASHINGTON (AP) — New details about the possible effects of the Zika virus on the fetal brain emerged Wednesday as U.S. health officials say mosquito eradication here and abroad is key to protect preg...
6:22PM ( 21 hours ago )
President Barack Obama is asking Congress for more than $1.8 billion in emergency funding to help fight the Zika virus
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is asking Congress for more than $1.8 billion in emergency funding to fight the Zika virus and the mosquitoes that spread it here and abroad, but says "there s...
10:40PM ( 2 days ago )
Search for Missouri couple wanted for crimes across the South, including Ga., ends with one suspect dead and the other wounded
A weeklong search for a Missouri couple wanted in a series of robberies and abductions across the South ended with one suspect dead and the other wounded Friday, after authorities say they chased the pair across the highway and through a rural neighborhood and exchanged gunfire with them in Florida's Panhandle.
By The Associated Press
9:57PM ( 5 days ago )
Cheap oil will be sticking around for a while, buoying consumers, frustrating oil producers
Cheap oil will be sticking around for a while.That reality is wreaking havoc and causing uncertainty for some governments and businesses, while creating financial windfalls for others. Less expensive...
6:18PM ( 1 week ago )
Cruz (R) expected to claim conservative Iowa caucus victory, with Clinton (D) and Sanders (D) deadlocked among liberal vote
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz swept to victory in Iowa's Republican caucuses Monday, overcoming billionaire Donald Trump and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Among Democrats, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were deadlocked in a tight race.
By The Associated Press
10:55PM ( 1 week ago )