As lawmakers in Washington, D.C., this week have debated over yet another stop-gap funding measure to keep the government running (or not,) once again the issue of Dreamers — children brought illegally to this country whose quest for U.S. citizenship has drawn harsh political divisions — have been bantered about as Republicans and the president openly mislead the public about U.S. immigration laws.
This feels like a repeat act in a bad play as our nation found itself in this very position just a few weeks ago, which resulted in a brief federal government shutdown.
It’s become evidently clear that both Republicans and Democrats are using the immigration debate to leverage their spending wish lists. At the top of President Donald Trump’s list remains a “huge” $25 billion border wall, which would cut through the Rio Grande Valley. In exchange, Trump has said he would support legislation that would grant a path to citizenship for 1.8 million Dreamers over an extended period of time that would likely be 10 to 12 years. Democrats are opposed to giving such a lump sum amount and want spending oversight and limits, if indeed Congress approves funds to build a border wall.
In truth, Trump’s offer last month came in grander than expected — most Democrats were hoping for a pathway to citizenship for the 690,000 youth registered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which is scheduled to end beginning next month. But Trump’s plan also comes with several restrictions, including strict cuts to what he calls “chain migration,” otherwise known as family reunification — an immigration process established by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 that has allowed U.S. citizens and those with permanent residency to petition to legally bring their closest relatives.
Despite the rhetoric, the process is not in any way quick or guaranteed that anyone will be granted a Visa into the United States. U.S. citizens, or those with permanent residency, may only request to bring in their spouse, children under age 21, siblings and/or parents. Often times, it takes six to 12 years and many times much longer to bring in relatives, who must pass background checks by federal authorities.
But during his Jan. 30 State of the Union Address, President Trump incorrectly said that the current system allows a single immigrant to “bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives.”
That simply is not true and he is obviously playing to a nativist base in an attempt to scare the American public into believing the immigration system has no checks and balances. Albeit, the system is woefully in need of reform, but there are regulations in place.
In a Feb. 1 report, the White House further piled on saying: “Our current immigration system jeopardizes our national security and puts American communities at risk.” It defined “chain migration” as a process that allows “entire extended families to resettle in the country … and is a process that can continue without limit.”
“It’s absolutely not true. I have dozens of cousins in Mexico and that if I could, I would, bring them. But you can’t. It’s only spouses, children, siblings and parents,” Efrén Olivares, racial and economic justice director for the Texas Civil Rights Project, told us Tuesday. “And it certainly is not a process that can continue without limits.”
In reality, family reunification numbers aren’t that high. In 2017, the State Department reported that only 112,631 spouse of U.S. citizens were admitted entry into the United States; 51,327 minor children and 85,280 parents.
The argument for allowing family members is to provide a support network to help the green card holder and U.S. citizen be more productive members of society — like bringing parents to help babysit young children. It is a concept that our nation has relied upon for over 50 years that recognizes the importance of family reunification, over racial-based quotas, for immigration to the United States.
The system absolutely needs strict oversight. Green cards should not be given to those with any questionable backgrounds, and more thorough vetting should be made for any applicants from countries that are recognized as “state sponsors of terrorism.”
We applaud President Trump on Tuesday signing a National Security Presidential Memorandum to establish a National Vetting Center (NVC.) This is “to keep terrorists, violent criminals, and other dangerous individuals from reaching our shores,” according to a statement on Tuesday by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, which she called “yet another step towards knowing who is coming to the United States — that they are who they say they are and that they do not pose a threat to our nation.”
That is certainly warranted, but what is not are fear tactics that interject misleading information into this most important immigration debate, a debate that we ultimately look to Congress this year to fix.