Unifying Families With Immigration Reform

As we continue to wait for the introduction of legislation to overhaul and fix our broken immigration system, one of the yardsticks by which we will measure its success is whether it is able to address the devastating separations of families allowed under the current system.

The story of immigration in this country has always been, in large part, a story about family. As a nation, our history with immigration is defined by people coming to this country to make a better life for themselves and their children. It is defined by people working hard and sacrificing to bring their families together here. It is defined by people braving harsh conditions to be reunited with family. Immigration policy should be about keeping families together, not tearing them apart, and, likewise, reform must prioritize keeping all families together.

Right now, that fundamental tenet of the immigration experience is under attack. There has been speculation that forthcoming legislation will include a drastic and unacceptable reduction in the number of family sponsorship visas that will be made available to U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents to sponsor adult children, siblings and even parents.

Currently, there are five broad family categories that may be sponsored for citizenship. In order of priority given, they are spouses and minor children (given top priority), unmarried children older than 21 (given the next level of priority) and married adult children and siblings (given the lowest priority). Possible compromises in the pending legislation would reduce the number of family sponsorship visas made available and eliminate the final two family categories for eligibility for family sponsorship.

As advocates for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, we understand how crucial it is that our immigration system work to unify all families. Right now, same-sex binational couples are kept apart because our immigration policy is ill-equipped to protect these families. Because most states still do not recognize marriage equality, and because the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prevents the federal government from recognizing the marriages legally performed in those states that do have marriage equality, U.S. citizens cannot sponsor their same-sex foreign partners for citizenship.

For the same reasons that we demand that immigration reform include protections for same-sex binational couples and families, we join our colleagues in being equally adamant that the number of family sponsorship visas not be reduced, and that no categories of family sponsorship be eliminated. Reducing the number of family sponsorship visas would add to an already alarmingly high backlog of people waiting to reunite with their families. This logjam has had a particularly devastating impact on the Asian-American community: Nearly half of the 4.3 million family members currently waiting for family-sponsored visas are relatives of Asian Americans.

The LGBT community understands that our public policy needs to reflect the true diversity of families in America, and that tampering with these categories will undermine the very essence of family. Family unification must be a priority of the immigration system. Even as we fight for other elements of a comprehensive immigration reform framework -- a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented, a fair and humane system of enforcement, and protections for both high-skilled and low-skilled workers -- we must make sure that any reform continues to keep families together. We cannot seriously attempt to design a system that works for all people while refusing to make that system for their families as well. We are proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our allies and friends in the broader immigration reform movement to strongly oppose any efforts to make it harder for immigrant families to stay together.