On Tuesday, April 16, a bipartisan group of Senators known as the Gang of Eight released an immigration reform bill to overhaul current immigration laws.
“The new proposal, which restricts family reunification while expanding the numbers of highly-skilled immigrant workers, represents a significant shift in our nation’s immigration policy,” said Margaret Fung, Executive Director of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. “Bipartisan immigration reform could be a landmark achievement if the bill ultimately reflects the family values that have been so important to the Asian American community and to all Americans.”
This overhaul in immigration policy coupled with increased emphasis and funding on border enforcement does not respond to the realities faced by Asian American communities, particularly low-wage workers and immigrant families. As the debate begins in the Senate, AALDEF identifies key target areas for revisions to the newly released Senate bill:
First, immigration reform should significantly reduce the length of time that immigrants must wait to apply for citizenship. The current proposed time period of 13 years is unjust and unwarranted, and should not be tied to border measures. Moreover, the current proposal provides no benefits or tax credits to immigrants during the lengthy wait period. Fair and humane immigration reform should not perpetuate an underclass of people for yet another generation.
Second, family unity is a core issue for Asian Americans. After decades of exclusion, the 1965 Immigration Act made immigration from Asia possible mainly through the family visa program. As currently drafted, the bill actively undermines the family-based immigration system by stripping U.S. citizens of their ability to sponsor their siblings and married children over 31 years old. This unjustifiable and purely political compromise divides “families.” These categories must be restored and this bill must immediately provide additional visas to clear the entire backlog that has separated families, including same-sex couples, for years.
Third, the proposed bill relies on a ten year border security trigger before any undocumented person would be eligible to apply for legal permanent residency, a very long and narrow process for those who have already long been subject to the abuses of a broken immigration system. With the increased border security provisions, more must also be said to ensure due process for undocumented detainees and end discriminatory and inhumane practices.
Finally, any proposal that links employees’ immigration status to employers heightens the potential for exploitation that immigrant workers already face. Under the current bill, all employers would be required to use the federal E-Verify system. However, mechanisms that deputize employers as immigration enforcers make all workers more vulnerable and less likely to assert their rights. Immigration reform must guarantee the same remedies and relief for immigrant and U.S.-born Americans and strengthen whistleblower protections to guarantee the rights of all workers.
While exit polls show that the majority of Asian Americans favor comprehensive immigration reform, any changes to immigration laws must address the needs faced by Asian American communities.
“In the coming months, we are committed to working together to make sure that just and humane immigration reform protects the rights of all Americans, both native born and immigrants,” said Bethany Li, staff attorney at AALDEF.
See AALDEF’s Blueprint for Comprehensive Immigration Reform >
The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), founded in 1974, is a national organization that protects and promotes the civil rights of Asian Americans. By combining litigation, advocacy, education, and organizing, AALDEF works with Asian American communities across the country to secure human rights for all.