New Asian American goal: putting the family back in the immigration bill

The sweeping new Senate immigration bill finally unveiled this week was delayed because of the bombings at the Boston Marathon on April 15.

But because Boston is on everyone’s minds, it’s unlikely anything will happen to it for awhile.

So let’s begin by remembering Chinese grad student Lu Lingzi, one of the three killed in the marathon blast.

Lu is often given short shrift in the mainstream news after the two other victims. I only learned the details of Lu when I read a friend’s post on Blogher.

Lu came here to study statistics at Boston University, but was here without close friends or blood ties.

She was alone in America with only her dream.

When she was killed in the blast, there was no one to hold a press conference, no one to mourn. Her friends hung a banner at the school, and a few tweeted on the internet about their friend.

And her dream died.

Lu was more Asian in America than Asian American, but if Boston becomes relevant in the immigration discussion, it’s fitting that we think of Lu.

Because if the new immigration proposal is adopted, Asian Americans will be more like Lu than what we’ve been in the past. We will be a more isolated community, with fewer relatives; here for the job, not to build and grow our families.

When you read the highlights of the 844-page immigration bill, that’s what you come away with.

What happened to the “F” word–“Family”?

We knew the Senate “Gang of Eight” would produce a compromise package–not filet mignon, but sausage. But we could all dream of a gourmet weiner from some overpriced foodie spot. Not so. We got convenience store canned Vienna sausage. And of course, none of it is satisfactory if you’re vegetarian.

So reviewing the sausage, it’s not pretty. There’s just enough “family” parts to make the plan plausible.

For example, there’s a new “V” visa. That allows visas for immigrants to work and live here while waiting for permanent residency. And family members can visit them up to 60 days per year.

If you’re already a legal permanent resident, your immediate family–spouse and children–will be eligible for green cards right away. Bring them all in. That should help the immigration logjam that mires families in a broken system.

But brothers and sisters? The F-4 category is eliminated. And the F-3 visa for adult married children now has a cap. Over 30? You’re staying in Asia.

Now what if you’re an Asian LGBT? You’re a Filipino transvestite performer and want to bring in your partner in the Philippines. There’s nothing in the sausage for any of that.

For years, family has been the reason for Asian immigrants to come to America. And reunification of the family has always been the cornerstone of our immigration laws. But this immigration overhaul makes Asian Americans a key bargaining chip in the compromise.

I know that with every compromise, to get something, you give up something.

Asian Americans, past and future, are giving up a lot in this compromise.

The biggest good news is probably for DREAMers. Undocumented youth who came to the U.S. before age 16 will have a quicker five-year path to citizenship. Plus, DREAMers over age 30 will be eligible.

But the so-called “pathway to citizenship” for others will still take time. Up to 15 years for most, maybe even longer. It’s the cold storage of immigration. My relatives from the Philippines arrived in 2000 after waiting 20 years. Is this new bill all that much of an improvement? Considering how the wait is contingent on sealing the border–so called “security goals”–who knows how long this really will be?

Border security is really the bulldozer that clears the path for everything “good” in the bill, a necessity to get Republican support. So these provisions are extra-punitive, with tougher new penalties and punishment for illegal crossers, and extra-costly–$4.5 billion to fence and militarize the border.

It’s as if we’re at war with Mexico, or at least the drug cartels, which some observers of the border scene say will likely respond with even more violence.

To me, a fence really doesn’t do enough to disincentivize people from coming to America, no matter what Robert Frost said.

I suppose the guest worker component is supposed to create a way that people can go back and forth legally, but only to do low-skilled work. A “W” visa doesn’t exactly sound like a winner, more like the instititutionalizing the idea of the working poor.

There’s also a new W2 and W3 visa, which creates a portable at-will work situation to replace H2A visas. To me, “at will” tends to benefit only the employer, who is given carte blanche to exploit “at will.” Their attitude to the worker is generally, “You can always go home.”

Does that sound like the American dream to you?

Hard to imagine small government conservatives liking a compromise bill that creates all these new acronyms and systems.

For example, there’s a new “blue card” for agricultural workers. But only certain ones who make low wages. Five years as a blue card holder gets you in line for a green card. More waiting.

On top of all that bureaucracy, the bill makes it mandatory to use the E-Verify system, a confusing process that even business owners I’ve talked to have little faith in.

Maybe the Gang of Eight eliminated the brother/sister family visa category, preferring instead to recruit more Asian immigrants as high-skilled workers. The bill doubles the number of H1B visas for skilled workers in science and technology, and even helps some students.

And that brings us back to Lu Lingzi, the Chinese graduate student and Boston victim.

She may have been the face for the future of Asian America. The lone immigrant, here for work and study. Not for family.

Of course, that could change as the immigration bill is still just a tool of politics.

Already, conservative talk radio host Laura Ingraham has given Republicans even more reason to balk on immigration reform. If she’s linked the Boston blast to immigration, you know others of her ilk are doing the same.

“This, in my mind, raises all sorts of questions,” said Ingraham on her program. “I mean, again, we don’t know who did this, motivations, all of that. But it is interesting that at this moment–we are considering legalizing or giving regularized status to millions of people. Pretty much none of them have gone through any rigorous background checks, to have a temporary status in the United States.

“And we don’t–I just think that there are all sorts of security implications aside from the other arguments on immigration–national security implications that we don’t talk about with enough frankness and I think certitude here. We can’t stop every attack, but my goodness, if we had borders that were shut down and we actually had a proper screening process, maybe we could stop some of them.”

Before Boston, immigration reform was thought to have a chance to pass by August. Now there’s some question if it can get done by the end of the year, especially given the political atmosphere these days.

On Wednesday, a bill on background checks for guns, an idea that 90 percent of Americans back, failed in the Senate by six votes. Not even advocates for the Newtown victims could change the divided politics that plague our country.

And now, even as we unite as a nation over the Boston tragedy, there are others using it to sabotage something as urgently needed as immigration reform.

That’s politics in America.

Activists, if they want to play this game, must smile and stay optimistic. The bill, far from the perfect sausage, is just an 844-page starting point.

But the way it reads now, immigration with all its tiers and requirements has morphed into a complex business deal where the big winners are the corporations.

It just seems so distant from the past, where the nature of immigration was to improve one’s life, one’s family, and to grow a young nation.

That was the American dream, and the upcoming immigration reform debate should be grounded in those values.

Image by AALDEF

Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. Updates at Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.

The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.

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