A project of the Center for Community Change

Abandoning Family Values

I had the great opportunity to see Bill Hing testify before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration (see post below)- Dr. Hing is continuing the call to protect families and our values, and I wanted to share his op-ed with you below:

By Bill Ong Hing
May 10, 2007

The U.S. Senate’s current attempt at immigration reform contains measures that strike at the heart of family reunification categories that have been the bedrock of immigration policy for decades and from which the nation has benefited economically and socially. In an attempt to “deal with” the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants in the country by a May 14 deadline, Senate Republicans are holding hostage a legalization plan unless legal immigration categories reserved for siblings of U.S. citizens and unmarried older children of lawful residence are eliminated. This represents a huge step backward from a compromise reached by the same body a year ago, which not only retained all family categories but added numbers and a method to reduce severe backlogs. Republicans now claim they want a new immigrant point system that would favor skilled immigrants and those with higher education.

Let’s get something straight about family immigrants – especially the siblings and adult offspring. They enter and immediately go to work, helping to support the Social Security system while filling a range of jobs that the Bureau of Labor Statistics concluded we would be short on workers now and into the near future because of the declining work force due to baby boomer retirements. It also doesn’t take much more than a walk outside our doors to realize that many of these working class kinship immigrants are the ones who open small businesses (restaurants, groceries, light industry) that employ natives as well as other immigrants, often rebuilding rundown neighborhoods and inspiring the rest of us with their work ethic.

Beyond the obvious economic benefits of the current system, a thorough consideration of the benefits of the family-based immigration system must include the psychological and social values of such a system. The psychic value of family reunification is generally overlooked by empiricists perhaps due to difficulty in making exact calculations. Yet the inability to make such a calculation is no reason to facilely cast aside the concept or ignore the possibilities.

Perhaps as a first step in getting a sense of the unquantifiable values of family reunification, we could begin by thinking of our own families – including our siblings and older children – and what each one of our loved ones means to us. How less productive would we be without one or more of them? How less productive would we be, having to constantly be concerned about their sustenance, safety or general well-being? How more productive are we when we know that we can go home at the end of the day and enjoy their company or share our days’ events with them?

In placing family immigration categories on the negotiating table, Republicans imply that there is tension by positioning family visas in opposition to employment-based visas. Of course, there is only tension if we choose to accept the premise that visas are a “scarce resource,” or if we insist on pitting the two types of visas as oppositional.

If instead we view the two systems as complementary ways of achieving and reflecting our goals and values as a society, then we don’t have a problem of tension. In other words, if we use immigration to help our economy, to promote the social welfare of the country and to promote family values, then family and employment categories together can meet those goals.

In an era of promoting family values, proposals to eliminate or greatly reduce family immigration categories are out of place. What values do such proposals impart? What’s the message? That brothers and sisters are not important? Or that once children reach a certain age, the parent-child bond need not remain strong?

Eliminating such categories institutionalizes concepts that are antithetical to the nurturing of family ties, that ignore the strong family bonds in most families, and that should be promoted among all families. Indeed, the proposals send a strong anti-family message.

Family reunification categories have been the foundation of immigration policy since the national origins quota systems of the 1920s and reaffirmed in the 1965 legislation that eliminated racial preferences. In 1981, the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy concluded that “the reunification of families serves the national interest not only through the humaneness of the policy itself, but also through the promotion of the public order and well-being of the nation. Psychologically and socially, the reunion of family members with their close relatives promotes the health and welfare of the United States.”

There is a reason that the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights highlights the unity of the family as the “foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” Our families make us whole. Our families define us and human beings. Our families are at the center of our most treasured values. Our families make the nation strong.

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