Family reunification has long been the cornerstone of our immigration system, and the Senate bill proposes significant changes to the family-based system. Many of the bill’s provisions are welcome and much-needed changes that will help millions of families. Importantly, the bill redefines “immediate relatives” to include spouses and minor children of green card holders (the so-called “2a” fix), which will exempt those family members from numerical caps and reunite them quickly. Another significant change is the elimination of the current family backlog of 4.3 million loved ones over a period of 8 to 10 years. In the meantime, some family members with approved petitions awaiting a green card will be able to live and work in the U.S. on a “V” visa.  Also on the plus side, the bill proposes allowing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) discretion to waive grounds of inadmissibility if denying admission would result in hardship to an immigrant’s U.S. citizen or LPR parent, spouse, or child. These are all-important changes that will provide relief for many families in the Asian, Latino, African, and Caribbean communities.

However, the other proposed changes are cause for concern and raise many questions. Moving forward, U.S. citizens would no longer be able to sponsor their brothers or sisters (there is an 18-month grace period after enactment). And the family preference category for married adult children (“F3” category) would be limited to individuals 30 years old or younger. The bill does not include provisions to include LGBT couples and their families in our immigration system. It is envisioned that some of these individuals will still be able to come to the U.S. through the new merit-based system, which allocates points to individuals based on different criteria. For example, the bill proposes granting 10 points for being a brother or sister of a U.S. citizen. This is the same number of points awarded for having a Master’s Degree.

So, does the concept of family embedded in the Senate bill reflect the reality and needs of American families?

Do the proposed legal modifications constitute a fair and reasonable solution to the flaws of our current family-based immigration system?

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  • Jill S.

    I hope the new legislation will add specific language to include same-sex marriages in the category of immediate relatives with all the benefits that entails. Imagine a gay man in the military who has to worry about his husband being deported while he is serving his country. The immigration hardships that face heterosexual marriages also face same-sex marriages.

  • Sandra Castaneda

    Will the spouse of a U.S. citizen still have to return to their home country for a Consular Interview such as Cuidad Juares in the case of a Mexican immigrant?

    • Mary Giovagnoli

      It doesn’t look like the bill specifically changes the rules regarding processing, but instead expands the possibility of a waiver–that’s the thing with waivers, they usually don’t excuse you from the regualr process. We will have to see what people think as they dig more deeply into the bill

      • Josie Gomez

        99% of waiver’s filed was being denied because it has to be extreme hardship. The USCIS adjudicators and judges do not care about emotional, financial toll on the USC families. You need to prove to them that you are living on the street, someone in your USC relative is dying that you needed to be there to take care of them. Otherwise its broken and does not work. Also, often times you will hear them talking about broken system in which is true and yet they really do not know what is really broken about it. For instance I knew someone that the husband filed for her stepdaughter petiton and it was granted and became a citizen, but when the husband filed petition to his wife the stepdaughter’s mom she was unable to returned back to the US its because of the 3-10 year bars, the sad part is she came to the United States legally with some bad guy bringing her to america. Her crime was overstaying her Visa unknowingly. How can they separate families like this? USC families needed help more than anything else.

        • EOshiro

          Josie, it sounds like you have experience with the very harsh impact of the 3- and 10-year bars. Do you think that changing the standard to just “hardship” will make a difference?

          • Josie Gomez

            Yes it has been almost 5 years when I left the US for final processing of my Visa and yet it turns out to be catch 22. I have lived my life in the US for almost 20 years with USC husband of 13 years now and with USC daughter. I do have equities to get approvals from the US Embassy but they ignored those equities such family ties, long term employment, long time residence, paying taxes and most importantly no criminal records and yet I was called recidivist. Our family was devastated and I am completely destroyed. Regarding your question if “hardship will make a difference? I don’t believe so its because if these people that makes the implementation of the Policy it will not work. At the end of the day I think its another human being that hates another human beings and they do no care whatsoever. It is a very selfish generations. It really showed that “Man dominated man to his/her injury.

  • wantmyfamilytogether

    What about spouses like myself that applied before the bill will this include reunification for our family?

  • Luke William Robuck

    I think Sandra has an excellent concern. Currently, spouses of US citizens are not immediately eligible for sponsorship if they entered the US without inspection. Usually these individuals must return to their “home” country for 3 to 10 years before returning to the US. While there are waivers for this, it is one more obstacle for US citizens and their foreign born spouses to endure. The bill should be amended to eliminate penalties for undocumented immigration who marry US citizens, assuming the marriage is legitimate and not solely for immigration purposes.

  • Natalie Fair-Albright

    Currently when someone become a U.S. Citizen they can apply for their parents. Unfortunately, the parents cannot bring their minor children with them. This has slpit many families that I know for many years. Often one parents will come and the other will stay with the minor children in the country of origin until the parent who comes to the U.S. can apply for the children and they can be granted visas. This is a terrible situation. Is this something that will change if this bill passes? And does anybody know what the House of Representatives is going to propose?

    • EOshiro

      Hi Natalie, the Senate bill would allow parents of U.S. citizens to bring minor children with them, which would address the question you raise.

  • Natalie Fair-Albright

    I do wish they would leave the Diversity Visa Lottery in place. I know a good many people who are here because of theDV Lottery. They are doctors, engineers, a pilot, nurses and other educated people that have become contributing members of our community. Many come from countries that we have had little immigration from. They have added to our cultural diversity. It has been a great program.

    • EOshiro

      Can you think of other ways we could support or facilitate immigration from countries that have traditionally used the Diversity Visa? What other steps can we take to ensure diversity among new Americans?

  • Roxi Dillon

    “… the bill proposes allowing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) discretion to waive grounds of inadmissibility if denying admission would result in hardship to an immigrant’s U.S. citizen or LPR parent, spouse, or child.” This is already in place. The proposed change should be to automatically pardon the applicant. Instead of DHS deciding whether the “reason” for the waiver (based on hardship to spouse or children) is demonstrated. The criteria should be based only on the fact that the applicant does not have any criminal record, and not be contingent to whether it would be a hardship or not.

  • Roxi Dillon

    The age limit of 30 years or younger for married adult children is not reasonable. I propose a 35 or 40 years or younger age limit. In latin countries, young adults do not finish university studies until approximately after 30 years old… and usually most “children” are still at home (with relatives, aunts or uncles or grandparents) even after they are 35 years old, while their parents have immigrated to the USA for a better future. So 35 or 40 for married adult children is more real.

    • EOshiro

      Roxi, you raise a really interesting point. Do you think that the proposed changes, including eliminating the ability of U.S. citizens to sponsor their brothers and sisters, reflects a realistic view of family?

  • J Todd Fernandez

    This Huffington Post piece I wrote reflects how it feels to me in a bi-national same-gender couple, and an activist in the immigration cause for several years now in New York, but to then be left out of the Senate bill. “Same On The Gang of Eight: HIstory Will Remember That You Left Out The Gays”.,b=facebook

  • Josie Gomez

    the problem with the extreme hardship is someone needs to be on the street not having anything at all or you’re relative is dying. Otherwise filing waiver is nothing but a waste of time and money.

    • Roxi Dillon

      Exactly! what is the purpose of a “waiver”, if they put a “condition to qualify” and at the end, there is no benefit, except for them keeping the fees. It’s a false “waiver”.

  • Judy Rickard

    If the CIR bill adopted into law does not include same-sex binational families, it is not truly comprehensive immigration reform. Thousands of us American citizens cannot sponsor our spouses for immigration and many of us have spouses and children in one country and the other spouse in another. Others have had to leave the U.S. altogether. CIR is not comprehensive when it denies LGBT Americans the same right of family immigration as opposite gender couples’ families. I know the pain first-hand.

  • Josie Gomez

    If they really want family to be reunited? They need to amend the 3-10 year bars its because it is inhumane and does not fit the crime if you only overstayed your Visa. Punishment is too harsh and it affect USC families.

  • Fatima A. Skimin

    First, this is what should be done :
    Eliminate backlogs for Families of US Citizens, expedite them in the next 2 years. It is unreasonable to punish US Citizens who complied with the law by applying the right way for their families. The wait is now up to 20 years for siblings. Eliminate first these backlogs before tackling the 11 Millions of undocumented. It is not fair to prioritize those who disregarded the law by processing them while Families of US Citizens and Workers are waiting for years. Processing undocumented individuals first will unfairly impact the rights of US Citizens because USCIS and other agencies will be inundated by the new wave of undocumented to process, taking resources away from US Citizens who complied with the laws and whose families are waiting for years to come to this country. Bottom Line: ELIMINATE BACKLOGS & PROCESS TO BENEFIT US CITIZENS WHOSE FAMILIES ARE WAITING IN LINE FIRST, THEN TACKLE THE 11 MILLIONS UNDOCUMENTED LATER

    Second, ELIMINATE GREEN CARD LOTTERY which does not serve any purpose and does not benefit the country.

    Third, LEAVE U.S CITIZENS’ RIGHTS ALONE , they should continue to apply for their siblings and their children.

    Thank you

    • Roxi Dillon

      All of this backlogs could be easily solved if they would just employ MORE qualified people who are EFFICIENT and with a true care for service to foreigners. Many times many friends of mine have had the bad experience of totally bad service from the immigration officers at different states in the US. With so much money that all the immigration processes cost, a bit from that should be set aside to create more offices and give employment to more qualified people. Then, there wouldn’t be any BACKLOGS.

      • Fatima A. Skimin

        Roxi, that is true that qualified and efficient people are needed but this more than just that. Congress has to raise immigration quotas until all backlogs are eliminated & green cards are issued in family and work categories, and this should be done quickly through this Bill. After that, then they can start processing the 11-million people who are already here.

  • E.D.

    It is unimaginable to me that a U.S. citizen wouldn’t be able to sponsor his or her legally married spouse for a visa or green card. There are currently 9 states plus the District of Columbia that allow same-sex marriage. That is nearly 16% of the population. California briefly allowed it and very likely will again starting in June when the Supreme Court hands down its ruling in the same-sex marriage cases currently before it. But sadly even if the Court rules in favor of gay rights it will won’t be enough to ensure that legally wed couples can sponsor their spouses for immigration purposes. We HAVE to end this discrimination. It is just intolerable to tell a couple that they will have to split up or move to another country. And, as Justice Kennedy recently asked, what about the children in these same-sex households? Shouldn’t we hear their voices? It’s just so unfair and cruel that I can’t believe it is still happening.

  • Fatima A. Skimin

    Also remove the “preconceived intent” in order to allow families of US Citizens and Permanent Legal residents to come visit under tourist visa for medical reasons and family events. Those families who are not allowed to immigrate. Then create a system to seriously “track exits” to make sure people who came here on a tourist visa actually returned to their home countries. Get the US Citizens and LPR involved by making sure their visiting families actually leave. Right now, many US Citizens are prevented from receiving their families on a tourist visa that is very hard to obtain especially when the family is in a developing country.

    At this time, the requirements for a family member to come visit for medical reasons is so unrealistic and unreasonable. Among other unrealistic requirements, It is required to show “why you cannot get medical care in your own country or a country closer to you”. This is absurd. If a family member wishes to come to the US for medical reasons is because they have US Citizen family in the US who will support them, and help them with shelter and food.

    Bottom Line: Congress should allow US Citizens and LPR to freely receive visits from their family AND Create a strict TRACKING SYSTEM to make sure those family members or friends who came to visit left the US at the end of their visa.

    ELIMINATE “Pre conceived intent”

  • Michelle

    re: “Moving forward, U.S. citizens would no longer be able to sponsor their brothers or sisters…” <> what if a sibling is the only relative they have? what if they have no kids/spouse? there’d have to be exceptions to this provision

  • Michelle

    I wish that Immigration and other big/central issues that they’d be kicked out to the American Public and we could vote on them online/electronically. Why don’t we yet have in place an online electronic system for voting on any issue in Congress, for it is supposed to be about We The People and not the wants of the President or any individual Senator/Representative, or Political Party.

  • Judith Foster

    A waiver of the permanent bar for false claims to citizenship is needed for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens in order to prevent break up of families where one member falls under that bar — often due to poorly documented and poorly written up Border Patrol allegations that are currently non-rebuttable and not reasonably subject to challenge even in courts.

  • noel

    While i am in agreement with some of the family changes , there is one i think should be included. in my country common Law relationship in legal and is recognized as husband and wife. We call it living together (man & woman) . doing all the things conventional husband and wife do .eg . buy house and land account etc. therefore it is important that this issue is addressed in the new immigration bill. In my country thousands of people co -habit have children and live a good life. so it is important to put a provision in the new bill where both can travel together and subsequently obtain green card.

  • Paul McDaniel

    Our immigration system should take into account the many forms a “family” can take. Many “families” may not be composed of mother, father, son, and daughter. Some families may consist of a single parent and a grandparent, sibling, child, or other relative who also serve as a primary care giver to the immediate family. Furthermore, same-sex families are also families. For bi-national same-sex couples (whether composed of a U.S. citizen and an immigrant, or if both are immigrants), the current immigration system is particularly egregious. For a personal account of this particular situation, check out IPC’s new perspectives piece by Judy Rickard: “Passport Pages Tell Our Tale: The Personal Story of a Binational Same-Sex Couple’s Struggle to be Together Under Current Immigration Laws” at
    Hopefully, comprehensive reform legislation will ultimately take into account the many forms families can take, and will reflect the reality and needs of all American families.

  • Bob Ritz

    Family unification has not “long been the cornerstone of our immigration policy.” In fact, it is a rather recent development and a bad one. Our immigration policy should be based on the economic needs of the country, whether in the trades or high-tech industries. Family re-unification is an entirely different matter which I support.

    • EOshiro

      Certainly our country’s economic interests are
      a critical aspect of our immigration policy and need to be considered as we
      debate immigration reform. But
      family-based immigration is complementary to employment-based immigration. Family-based immigrants contribute to our
      economic well-being in numerous ways.
      Families start businesses – large and small – that create jobs for other
      American workers. Family members also
      provide a support network (like childcare, helping to pay for higher education
      or to buy a home) so that other family members are able to focus on their
      careers and work. Should we be concerned
      that limiting the ability of highly skilled workers to later petition for their
      loved ones will make American employers less competitive in the market for
      global talent?

  • EOshiro

    Family members who have already filed their petitions and are waiting in line would be okay – and they may be reunited more quickly under the Senate’s proposal. The current backlog for family members is expected to be eliminated over and 8-10 year period under the bill’s plan. The limits on brothers and sisters (and adult married children over 30) would go into effect 18 months after enactment.

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  • Nora Privitera

    Families are the foundational unit of every society, and therefore an immigration system that recognizes the value of families to society is in the best interest of the United States. However, in recent years anti-immigrant forces have mischaracterized family immigration as “chain migration,” as if there were something unsavory about families wanting to be united.

    The Senate Bill’s provisions regarding family immigration is a mixed bag. On the one hand, its expansion of the definition of immediate relatives to include the spouses and children of lawful permanent residents and add derivatives to that category seems to recognize the importance of famiies, or at least the importance of the nuclear family unit. This provision is a long overdue reform to our dysfunctional immigration system, and will go a long way toward reducing the illegal immigration of the spouses and children of lawful permanent residents who enter illegally because they are desperate to join their loved ones and have a normal family life.

    On the other hand, the arbitrary cut-off date at age 31 for married sons and daughters makes no sense at all. Families do not value their married sons and daughters more when they are younger; rather the ties that bind people together often strengthen as children grow older and create families of their own. Moreover, parents have a vested interest in being involved in their grandchildren’s lives. The arbitrary cut-off of the married sons and daughters category disrupts this natural bond between families, and therefore creates an incentive to circumvent the law. In addition, as parents age, they themselves become needy and dependent, and having their adult children near by insures that they have a source of emotional and financial support and do not become as dependent on the government for their care. Therefore, keeping the married sons and daughters category is a more sensible solution than arbitrarily cutting it off by age.

    The current 4th preference visa category, which the Senate bill would eliminate, is grossly oversubscribed, so that the waiting periods for immigrating can be as long as 20 years for some countries. These backlogs have contributed greatly to the undocumented population. However, the Senate bill, instead of responding to the obvious demand for these types of visas, destroys them, and with them the hopes and dreams of thousands of people. This is not a wise provision, as it is likely to lead to more illegal immigration and more fraud as documentation requirements for working legally are tightened.

    I therefore support Senator Hirono’s amendments to the family categories (#5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13), as they would make the senate bill much more realistic and fair.

  • Paul

    I don’t understand the 30 years old or younger part of the bill. My wife’s father a USC petitioned for us in 2006, my wife at the time was 32 years old. Does this mean we have waited for 7 years for nothing or does it mean if the bill becomes law anyone that gets petitioned by a USC and is a married son or daughter then has to be 30 years or younger?

    I find this news exciting and annoying all at the same time.