During the current immigration debate, members of Congress and pundits frequently say America is a nation of immigrants.  However, it may be more accurate to say we are a nation of immigrant families.  The classic American story is of an immigrant coming to our shores and working hard in order to reunite with their family, so that they can build a new life full of opportunity and prosperity.  We all know this story – many of our families lived this story.

Just as family reunification was important to earlier waves of immigrants, it is equally important to today’s immigrants. Family members need and want to be together for a variety of reasons.  Many immigrants, such as 89-year old Filipino World War II Veteran Artemio Caleda, need the love and care that often only close family members can provide. New Americans draw emotional support from their loved ones as they integrate into our community.

Many new Americans also rely on family members for economic support.  According to Darrell West of the Brookings Institute, family-based immigration has a positive impact on business development and community improvement.

Family ties facilitate the formation of immigrant communities which, in turn, offer a fertile environment for the development of businesses.  As Jeff Gross stated in a recent Boston Globe blog “family is the chief source not just of labor but capital” for many immigrant-owned business.  Gross also noted a recent study by the Small Business Administration which found that “two-thirds of new immigrant-owned businesses rely on personal or family capital to get started (and more than a third for expansion capital)”.  In this regard, “case-study evidence finds that extended immigrant families and close-knit immigrant communities ease the economic assimilation of new immigrants and promote investment in U.S. human capital as well as the formation of businesses.”

Furthermore, in many situations, family members provide indirect support for economic growth.  For example, according to research by Sun Min Yoon, while only 11% of grandparents across the nation cared for grandchildren, about 33% of grandparents in Asian American households provided care for their grandchildren. Latino and Asian immigrant families in particular rely heavily on child care from family members.

If our immigration model changes from one of family-based to merit-based what impact will that have on future flows of immigrants?

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