What is missing from the immigration debates

The Administrative Office of the US Courts has a wonderful new “Pathways to the Bench” video (LINK) featuring one of President Obama’s best judicial nominees, Denny Chin (2nd Cir., NY).  It’s 3 minutes long and I highly recommend it.  It seems particularly appropriate on a day like Christmas that we celebrate with our families.  Denny talks about his family’s immigration history, how is grandfather came and worked to become a citizen and then sponsored his parents who brought Denny and his siblings.  It is the story of family based immigration that has served America well and has been one of the cornerstones of Asian American immigration.  High tech companies are pushing for an increase in employment based visas but some politicians support this increase only if family categories like the one Denny’s parents used — adult children of U.S. citizens — get terminated.  

In the last acrimonious debate over comprehensive immigration reform, many Asian American organizations opposed the bill cobbled together in a framework created  under then President Bush’s leadership.  Not only did it end visas for adult children of U.S. citizens, as well as siblings of U.S. citizens, it curtailed immigration for parents of U.S. citizens and created a point system requiring university level English fluency heavily weighted to professional and graduate degrees.  Worse still, it treated these family members worse than undocumented immigrants even though they tried to play by the rules.  In effect, it ripped up the applications of those who had applied and were near the back of the line — cruelly changing the rules on them.

Those politicians who place employment based immigration over family immigration fail to understand that the family based system also provides America with workers — both high skilled and low skilled.  The most heavily backlogged countries in the family system are Mexico and Asian countries such as China, Philippines, India and Viet Nam.  They come with a family member in the U.S. who can help them integrate and provide a safety net.  And they come with a freedom from the potential exploitation that still lurks in the employment based system whether permanent or temporary visas are involved.

I support smart employment based immigration where the workers have real rights and are able to bring their families free of any kind of obligation that makes them vulnerable to exploitation.   Our country needs skilled agricultural workers and specialized high tech experts.  But I don’t believe it needs to come at the expense of family immigration and I don’t believe that only skilled workers benefit our country’s economy.  As Judge Chin’s story shows, what this country benefits from are immigrants who come with dreams, family values and a willingness to work hard so their children can thrive.  They renew our faith in the American dream.