News Analysis: Access Washington: An Update on Immigration

By Mary Ambrose, New America Media
Tuesday May 08, 2007

Efforts to limit family re-unification visas are the most dangerous, yet least known aspect of the immigration reform now being hatched in Washington, D.C. Karen Narasaki, executive director of the Asian American Justice Center, warns that the quota of family members being allowed to join their families in the United States may be halved. 

That was the most surprising news in New America Media’s new series of biweekly conference calls offered to ethnic media to enable them keep up with the fast-paced nature of immigration reform by providing access to immigration experts and activists. 

Washington is buzzing with speculation and negotiation as new immigration legislation may be decided upon in the next few weeks. 

Public hearings, run by the subcommittee of the House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee, can be viewed at the Judiciary Committee website. These cover subjects such as the economic impact of immigration, said Angela Kelley, deputy director of the National Immigration Forum. 

The hearings are part of the Judiciary Committee’s preparation to discuss the latest immigration bill called the STRIVE Act (HR 1645), proposed by Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and now co-sponsored by 60 other House representatives. Co-sponsorship improves this bill’s chances of surviving committee, said Kelley. However, it’s unclear which bill— if any—might actually move through the immigration subcommittee to the Judiciary Committee and then onto the House floor. The other spur is that the Judiciary Committee has said they will pass an immigration bill through in June. The bill then goes to the House floor and a final vote is projected for July. 

Simultaneously, Senate leader Harry Reid has reserved the week of May 14 to 21 to discuss an immigration proposal from the Senate before lawmakers leave for Memorial Day. No bill has yet been introduced in the Senate. “It’s currently being hammered out behind closed doors,” said Kelley. “For anything to pass,” she added, “it will have to be bipartisan and comprehensive.” May 9 is the date to watch, Kelley says, since that is when Reid could introduce a bill in the Senate. 

The biggest worry for reformers is the White House’s discussions on immigration. A group of Republican senators, led by John Kyl (R- Ariz.) and supported by the administration, is working on a set of principles to address immigration reform, according to Narasaki. The central tenet is what she called “corporate sponsorship,” which means boosting the number of temporary work visas and severely curtailing the chance for immigrants—even those who have become citizens—to bring their parents, sisters or brothers into the country. They propose that these family members could only enter as workers. 

For those who have been waiting—often years—to bring their family to join them, there may be an arbitrary cut-off date (June, 2004 or May, 2005 are speculated dates). Those who have applied after the cut-off date would simply have to get back in line. 

“There’s a face on the undocumented,” Narasaki said, “but there’s not as much (of a human) face on the issue of those who have been waiting a decade or more.” She urged the ethnic media to tell the stories of how many successful immigrants have come to this country, started businesses and contributed to the economy. She noted that one man who entered the United States on a family visa was Dr. David Ho, who was Time Magazine’s man of the year when he created the triple cocktail with which to fight AIDS. 

The purpose of this change, proposed by anti-immigration forces, is to reduce the number of people entering the country, in the hope that by making it difficult for even guest workers to bring their families with them, they will leave. But “it’s not true,” said Kelley. 

The impetus for the White House to wrestle with immigration reform is to stem “the piecemeal approaches at the local level,” says Clarissa Martinez, campaign manager of the Coalition for Immigration Reform. 

All three experts agree that over the next couple of weeks, crucial negotiations are being hammered out and the state of play on this issue changes almost daily.