Senator Mazie Hirono

Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI)

In response to reports that the Gang of 8, a bipartisan group of senators working on immigration reform, could possibly eliminate family categories for adult married children and siblings of US citizens (F3 and F4 categories respectively) in exchange for more skilled labor, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony to discuss the potential consequences of such legislation. Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) chaired the proceedings and offered some important insight during her opening remarks.

It’s from my own experience as an immigrant that I believe immigration reform should make the family immigration system stronger, not weaker.  And we should not ignore the challenges immigrant women face.

Oftentimes women and children are overlooked in the overall immigration conversation when  they should be given special attention. Women and children make up nearly two thirds of immigrants. Furthermore, less than one third of employment-based visas are granted to women as principal green card holders, resulting in women relying heavily on the family-based system to gain entry into the country. As immigrant women are increasingly becoming the heads of households it is paramount to recognize the unique obstacles these women face as they attempt to navigate the labyrinth that is our immigration system. Any legislation that reduces family-based immigration will leave out a large segment of the immigrant community.

When discussing the impact of immigration backlogs, Senator Al Franken (D-MN) makes a very good observation:

Don’t these backlogs incentivize illegal immigration? If you’re overseas and have no prospect of seeing your parents for over 20 years… I would like to think that my kids will do everything they could to be with me.

Contrary to the rhetoric that immigration reform only encourages illegal immigration forced migration, it is actually the outdated and restrictionist immigration law that helps fuel it. When family members are faced with the possibility of waiting decades before being reunited, many will naturally choose to be with family. In essence, eliminating entire categories will do nothing to decrease the current 4.3 million family members waiting in line for green cards. If anything, it will only exacerbate the issue. We could possibly find ourselves in a worse situation years from now. As Mee Muoa notes, President and Executive Director of the Asian American Justice Center,  even “skilled” labor have family members. It is preposterous to think that a strong family network for immigrants will not provide value to this country’s best interest.