Keep Our Families Together — Reform Immigration Laws

This piece is cross-posted at Roll Call.

By Rep. Mike Honda
Special to Roll Call
Thursday, October 1, 2009

With anti-immigration sentiment holding the health care debate
hostage, we cannot afford to delay comprehensive immigration reform
any longer. The time is now, lest immigration be maligned further.
A nation born of immigrants, whether Hispanic, Asian, African, gay,
lesbian, bisexual or transgender, we are forgetting the forbearance
shown our forefathers and forgoing the opportunity to pursue a more
fiscally prudent immigration policy. That is, unless we keep
families together.

Our family-based immigration system has not been updated in 20
years; with nearly 6 million people stuck in a perpetual wait, this
is both insufferable and inexcusable. Five-year separations,
keeping spouses, parents and children apart, are quite common; so
are 20-year estrangements from siblings and elderly parents.
Backlogs are so bad that families receiving visas often find out
their children have to reapply as adults, and go to the back of the
line, because so much time has passed. Disproportionately affecting
Asian-Americans, Latinos and women, the lengthy waits waste
precious government resources and discourage potential applicants
from using legal channels to join their family in the United

In my district in California, two Silicon Valley engineers, Aung
Moe and Vivek Jayanand, are longtime U.S. residents waiting on
wives who remain overseas. Initially, as green-card holders, Moe
and Jayanand were given two options, equally unenviable: Become
U.S. citizens, a process that takes at least five years, or wait
for visas for their spouse, a process that can take even longer.
Meanwhile, our immigration system is sending them mixed messages.
They are on the legal track to citizenship, but they remain
separated from their families. The earliest their wives will arrive
in the U.S. is summer 2010. This rationale is unsound.

Another constituent, Judy Rickard, will permanently leave America
this November in an effort to keep her family together. Under U.S.
law, she cannot be reunited with her partner, Karin Bogliolo, a UK
national. Judy would have preferred to keep working at San Jose
State University and sponsor Karin for residency in America, just
as married heterosexual couples can. But U.S. law does not allow
for that. Judy is taking early retirement from her 27-year
employment at San Jose State. Facing reduced pension for the rest
of her life, Judy is choosing Europe because our country will not
let Judy and Karin live together. The result is a loss for my
district and a loss for the university.

In an effort to safeguard Aung’s, Vivek’s and Judy’s
families, I reintroduced the Reuniting Families Act (H.R. 2709) in
Congress to allow all Americans to be reunited with their families.
I did so because I know that the more educated, legal and healthy
immigrants become, the higher their income, the higher their taxes
paid, and the fewer emergency and social services used.
Furthermore, the more reunited immigrants are, and thus happier,
the fewer dollars we lose in remittances to other countries.

Failure to pass this legislation means failure to provide American
workers with a critical support system. Families do together what
they cannot do alone — start family businesses, create American
jobs and contribute more to this country’s welfare.

Failure to reunite families means failure to keep communities
healthy, physically and financially. A healthier family means a
more expendable income and a lower burden on government social
services. A reunited family keeps remittances stateside: U.S.
remittances to Latin America alone totaled almost $46 billion in
2008. Of that, Mexico received almost $24 billion.

Failure is simply not feasible. We must seize every opportunity
this year to get our economy back on track, and one clear way of
doing so is to reunite America’s workers with their families. The
irony with anti-immigration sentiment, which fears a further
recessed economy if liberal legislation passes, is that, in fact,
it is more fiscally prudent to pass policy that legalizes, insures,
employs, reunites and educates our immigrants.

Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) is chairman of the Congressional Asian
Pacific American Caucus.

Include LGBT Families in Immigration Reform! Under
the current discriminatory immigration laws, LGBT Americans cannot
sponsor their foreign-born same-sex partners for immigration and
thus have to choose between leaving the United States or having
their family torn apart. The comprehensive immigration reform being
considered by Congress can remedy this terrible injustice – but
only if LGBT families are included in the bill.

In May, Family Equality Council submitted written testimony to the
U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee supporting the inclusion of LGBT
families in comprehensive immigration reform. Click
to read the full testimony. Congress is right now in the
process of writing a comprehensive immigration reform bill. It is
critical that this legislation includes LGBT families. We must get
this message to Congress as soon as possible. The suffering of LGBT
binational families must end.

Ways you can help:

  • Call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask to speak
    to your member of Congress. Below are suggested messages for each
    piece of critical legislation.
  • Forward this blog posting to 5 friends and family members who
    live in your member of Congress’ district and ask them to help
    support LGBT families!

Immigration Reform Suggested message:

“My name is ________ and I live in Representative/Senator
_________’s district/State. I am calling to urge him/her to
support including gay and lesbian families in the comprehensive
immigration reform bill. Under the current discriminatory
immigration laws, LGBT Americans cannot sponsor their foreign-born
same-sex partners for immigration and thus have to choose between
leaving the United States or having their family torn apart. Please
protect all families. Thank you.”