Lent: Family Unity and Immigration

March 11, 2010

A quick note first on scheduling – we originally announced that this week we would look at issues related to refugees. Next week turns out to be the 30th Anniversary of the Refugee Act, and so we are going to wait for some of the resources and stories that will be available next week as a result.

That means this week we are pondering the challenge of our immigration system and family unity. Starting off on a positive, family unity has been a central piece of our immigration system for more than 40 years. Our church’s policy that I mentioned last week – “The Alien Among You” – supports that and looks for the system to allow close family members to reunite, without undue delay, with individuals lawfully present in the United States. So far, I’m hoping that this all sounds pretty reasonable.

The challenge, though, is despite the fact that our immigration system makes family immigration a priority, lengthy backlogs, inadequate caps and preference categories are undermining that goal. For families seeking reunification, the process can become complicated, time consuming and burdensome. Is leaving peoples lives on hold by putting them into paperwork limbo something that we as a nation have “left undone?”

The situation created by the paperwork log-jam is further exacerbated by the expansion of enforcement. The detention and transferring of immigrants far away from families, the detention of entire families and raids that leave children without parents are all examples of a system more focused on enforcement than humane treatment.

Now, I’m not saying that laws should be ignored. But, I do wonder if harsh enforcement is the right route when many folks are trying to do the right thing and trying to file the right paperwork but are stymied by a system that seems unable to keep up with the volume of paperwork.

No, before you ask, I’m not so naïve as to think that everyone caught in the raids of the last couple of years had paperwork stuck in the backlog. That said, there are about five million U.S. children – citizens - with at least one undocumented parent. The recent intensification of immigration enforcement activities has increasingly put these children at risk of family separation, economic hardship, and serious psychological trauma. If the system was running efficiently without backlogs, might things be better?

This is essentially the point of the church’s policy here – asking the government to re-work the system to be more efficient and sustainable – to work without undue delay. It’s not a small or easy issue. I’ve shared some thoughts, and I look forward to hearing from some of you. If you are interested in more information on this issue or an opportunity to do advocacy on a piece of legislation targeted at the challenges of family unity – visit this week’s resource page here.

Mary Getz

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