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Reuniting Families Act reintroduced with spotlight on Asian immigrant families

by Dhanika Pineda, AsAmNews Contributor

Members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) and Asian immigrant rights activists announced the reintroduction of the Reuniting Families Act today at a press conference near the steps of Capitol Hill.

The Reuniting Families Act aims to reform the family immigration system in order to more efficiently award visas and reunite families waiting on paperwork work. Rep. Judy Chu (CA-28), the CAPAC chair, first introduced the Reuniting Families Act in 2018, and reintroduced it one time prior to this year in 2019.

At Tuesday’s press conference, Rep. Chu said that three-quarters of family visas that were supposed to be issued in 2021 were lost due to bureaucratic delay.

“I’m particularly concerned about how this backlog is affecting families from Asia. Asians make up not only 80% of the employment Visa backlog but they make up 40% of the 4 million family-based Visa backlog,” Rep. Chu said. 

The legislation aims to clear out the pending visa backlogs by adding the number of visas that were not awarded during a fiscal year to the following years allotment, exempting children and spouses of lawful permanent residents from numerical caps, setting the maximum wait for green card processing to ten years, and increasing the visas per country limits from its current 7% to 15%. According to Rep. Chu’s media advisory, the legislation would also “more than double the number of family-preference visas available.”

Rep. Chu was joined at the conference by Rep. Jill Tokuda (HI-02), CAPAC Freshmen Representative and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), CAPAC Immigration Task Force Co-Chair.

Rep. Tokuda spoke about the major life moments, such as weddings, births, even funerals, that families separated by immigration cannot spend together. 

“Ask yourself, what is it going to take to make sure that at night, they can go home to their own families too?” Rep. Tokuda said, urging for the support of this legislation.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) speaks at the press conference // Screenshot of CAPAC’s livestream

Rep. Jayapal, an Asian immigrant herself, shared her story of moving to the States from India on her own at 16 years old.

“I am incredibly grateful to be living the American dream, so many other people deserve to do that with their families at their side,” Rep Jayapal, whose parents still live in India today, said.

According to Rep. Chu, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, plans to introduce the Senate companion for the bill. Sen. Menendez worked with former Rep. Mike Honda (CA-17) to introduce a similar bill of the same name to protect family reunification in 2008.

Rep. Chu was joined at the press conference by a number of Asian immigrants rights activists, including John Yang, President and Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Quyên Đinh, Executive Director of the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center,  Alaide Vilchis Ibarra, Campaign Director for Value Our Families, and Monica Sarmiento, Executive Director of the Virginia Coalition for Immigrant Rights.

“In the aftermath of war and genocide in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, many Southeast Asian American families were separated in their escape to safety,” Dinh said in a statement. “Today, too many of our community members have not been able to see their loved ones for decades because of a backlogged family immigration system, and many SEAAs still live with the constant fear of being torn apart from their families because of the limited relief available to them from unjust removal orders.”

Proponents of the Reuniting Families Act hope it will help repair the immigration system.

“While our immigration system is designed to reunite families, it’s currently failing to do so,” Rep. Chu said, “Our immigration system should reflect our values that we should reunite families, not tear them apart.”

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