President Trump’s attack on immigrants continues with his support for the re-introduced “RAISE Act”, which would drastically cut legal immigration. This bill has already drawn very strong opposition, and will hopefully never become law. It has enough support, however, to take seriously both for the potential changes in the law and another example of the administration’s disregard for immigrants.
Others have already analyzed how the RAISE Act threatens to would-be immigrants, their family, employers, and our economy. Less attention has been paid to the fact that the bill would essentially create different classes of citizens- those who can be with their family, and those who cannot. Not surprisingly, those citizens who would be harmed are immigrants or their family members.
While recognizing that the potential harm to immigrants outweighs the danger for citizens under the RAISE Act, this aspect is also very important for two reasons. First, it shows how seemingly neutral language can do much more harm to citizens with non-citizen family members. Second, the United States citizens harmed by this bill can vote, and put even greater pressure on their lawmakers to make sure the bill does not become law.
No US citizens could petition parents- only some would be without their family.
A long-held tradition in nationality law is that all United States citizens have the same rights and responsibilities, no matter the source of their citizenship. Whether they are born in this country, have citizen parents, or naturalize, United States citizens cannot be deported, can petition family members, vote, and owe allegiance to the U.S.
Currently, all U.S. citizens can petition their parents, siblings, children (adult and minor), and spouses for lawful permanent residency. While the system is very flawed, it means that immigrants to the U.S. can naturalize and restore family ties they have made when they left. For U.S. citizens born in this country in a mixed-status household, the visa process can ensure citizens their family members will be able to remain here.
With the RAISE Act, U.S. citizens would no longer be able to petition parents, adult children, or siblings for lawful permanent residence. While harsh, on the surface this change appears to apply to all citizens equally, in keeping with the tradition described above. Indeed, one would assume a proposed law officially creating lesser rights based on the type of citizenship would generate even more uproar, and would likely be found unconstitutional.
The inequality this change creates among U.S. citizens, however, is undeniable. As explained above, the provisions would only harm those citizens whose family members do not already have status in this country. Those whose parents (or children, or siblings) are already citizens or residents can live with their family near if they choose. They may technically lose the right to petition some relatives, but that right was never needed in the first place.
To some degree, supporters of the RAISE Act have been up front about this effect- trumpeting that it will cut “chain migration”, in which one immigrant brings other family members. First, “chain migration” is not negative, and is seemingly only supported by a general disregard for immigrants.
Moreover, it is vital to realize that even with the focus on immigrants, the beginning of most “chains” is a United States citizen. That the citizen is also an immigrant or member of a mixed status family does not change that they are citizens, theoretically with the same rights and responsibilities as those with citizen parents and siblings.
Temporary visas for parents- if citizen sons and daughters can afford them.
The RAISE Act does at least allow U.S. citizens to apply for a five year status for their parents, called a “W visa”. The W visa is not only temporary, but will only be realistic for U.S. citizens who are relatively well off financially.
Parents with W visas will not be allowed to work, and will have to rely on citizen petitioners for their support. Regardless of their parents’ finances, the U.S. citizens will have to demonstrate they can support them for the duration of their stay, including providing health insurance at no cost to the parents.
Therefore, the U.S. citizens who are already harmed because their parents are not citizens or residents as well will be divided even further- those who can afford to be with their parents, and those who cannot.
Bean, Lloyd, Mukherji, & Taylor is an immigration law firm in Oakland, California
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