For decades, our country and our communities have reaped the extensive benefits of our family-based immigration policies. Family-based immigration drives small business development, fuels entrepreneurship and innovation, promotes integration, ensures the maintenance of strong family support systems, and strengthens our nation. U.S. history is full of success stories that began through the family-based immigration system, including John Tu, founder of Kingston Technology and number 87 on the Forbes 400 list, who immigrated to the U.S. based on sponsorship by his U.S. citizen sister.
In recent months, the Trump administration has made wildly inaccurate claims that the family-based system allows massive numbers of extended relatives to gain immigration status, and even used a pejorative term to describe this falsehood: “chain migration.” For example, President Trump has claimed, with no evidence, that Sayfullo Saipov, the suspect in the October 2017 attack in New York, enabled 23 people to immigrate to the United States through the family-based system. Such statements are blatantly inaccurate and simply do not reflect how the system works.
The truth, as set forth in AILA’s Policy Brief: The Value of Family-Based Immigration, is that our family-based immigration system only permits close family members to be sponsored by a U.S. citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) relative, and because only a limited number of visas are available each year, it can take many years, and often decades, for a sponsored relative to obtain a green card through this system. Let’s unpack those three points.
First, under current immigration law, LPRs can only sponsor their spouses and children to immigrate to the United States while U.S. citizens can sponsor their spouse, children, parents, and siblings for permanent resident status. As pointed out below, for many of these relationships, the waiting period for a visa can be years, or decades, long.
Second, despite what the administration has led the public to believe, there are a limited number of family-based visas that are available each year. Further shrinking the pool of visas, our laws also limit the number of visas that may be given to nationals of any single country in a given year to 7%. As a result of these limitations, coupled with high demand, substantial visa backlogs have developed in the family-based immigration system. That’s why it can take many years, even decades, for a family member to obtain a green card through family sponsorship. For example, the U.S. government is currently granting green cards for brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens who filed their petitions more than 13 years go. Keeping in mind the per-country limit, if the brother or sister was born in the Philippines, the petition would need to have been filed more than 23 years ago to be processed today.
These extraordinary wait times alone refute the “chain migration” myth. There is simply no way that one immigrant can bring a wave of family members to the U.S. in rapid succession, who can then, in turn, quickly bring in another wave of family members. Given the substantial wait times, it could be many years, and in some cases, even several decades, before a U.S. citizen or LPR could reunite with a single family member, let alone multiple family members.
The inaccuracies being perpetuated by the Trump administration about the family-based immigration system are simply thinly veiled attacks on the legal immigration system. Once you take a look at these claims, and compare them to how our actual immigration system works, they lose all credibility. If these false statements are believed, they will only serve to keep families apart, disrupt communities, and harm our national economy.
As immigration attorneys, we must do all we can to dispel the falsehoods being perpetuated by the administration against the family-based immigration system by setting the record straight about how the system works. We can debunk the administration’s inaccurate statements by speaking about the realities of the U.S. immigration system in our local communities, advocating about the benefits of family-based immigration with our Members of Congress, and writing letters to the editor for our local newspapers. Together we should utilize our expertise in immigration law to educate the public, and our congressional delegations, about the facts of the family-based immigration system and highlight the importance of immigrants to our shared economic prosperity. As a cornerstone of American history and American values, family-based immigration can and must be protected, not derided with lies. Stand with AILA as #AILAStandsWithImmigrants.
You can download shareable graphics to show your support for family-based immigration on social media platforms via the AILA Stands With Immigrants webpage.