We All Dream of Family

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

By Kalpana Krishnamurthy and Moira Bowman

When we get lonely for family, many of us go home and catch up with our partners or children; or we go see a movie with mom, dad, our siblings, or a close friend; or maybe we plan a long weekend to visit grandma.

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But for some people, being with family is a matter of complicated and hard-to-navigate immigration law. Instead of bringing families together, our current policies create walls that separate people, thick concrete walls at borders and detention centers, and equally solid bureaucratic walls built through immigration quotas, waiting periods that eat up decades of people’s lives, and economic insecurities that keep workers on the road and away from loved ones.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights works with many undocumented LGBT people whose families are torn apart by our immigration system. These include people like Liza and Jessica, a lesbian couple who are undocumented immigrants in the United States.  Liza is also the mother of a 5 year old son, born in the US and a citizen.  Unfortunately for their family, the child’s father reported Liza’s immigration status to law enforcement in an attempt to avoid paying child support.  Liza has returned to the United States without documentation, in order to reunite with Jessica and her young son, and Liza is in the process of applying for a permanent visa.   Unfortunately, Jessica is now facing a separate deportation proceeding, and is being represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Nancy Haque from Portland, Oregon, writes, “When people say that the system is broken, they’re not kidding. Until the age of 11, I was the only U.S. citizen in my family of six. Following all the rules, it took my parents and siblings 15 years to gain citizenship and another 15 years of going through the byzantine process of sponsorship for my relatives to start being approved for entry to the U.S. Thirty years is a long time—a lifetime—to wait for a family to be reunited.”

We all dream of family because we are made stronger by our families. Part of that strength comes from the fact that our families are constantly evolving through birth, death, growth, and separation. It is simply foolish for us to ignore this reality or to refuse to recognize and support families of all shapes, sizes, and ages; biological and chosen; living in one household, many households, and across national borders; documented, undocumented, or mixed; with children and without. Yet, right now the battle to keep families together, unite families across borders, and recognize same-sex couples as families rages on across dinner tables, in local statehouses, and in the halls of Congress.

To create a U.S. where dreaming of family isn’t a pipedream for some, public policy needs to catch up to how families really exist, and immigration policy is no exception. There are certain things we should come to expect from any immigration reform package in order for federal policy to truly support all families, including the families of people like Liza, Jessica, and Nancy. For starters, decisions about immigration need to reflect an understanding that immigrants are not just agricultural workers or high-tech businesspeople; they’re mothers, fathers, partners, and children. Moreover, people that do contribute to our economy through direct employment contribute in more enriched ways when they are able to be with their families. In fact, it is these relationships that make our society strong.

We should also expect our lawmakers to recognize how many broken families are represented by the 400 thousand people deported in 2012 and demand that new immigration laws cease the raids, detentions, and deportations that rip families apart, and instead, reunify families and unclog the family immigration backlog. And we should expect that policy debates everywhere acknowledge the true diversity of family structures, including same-sex couples, and that any new legislation put forth provides a clear path to reunification for all families that have been forced apart.

The National Coalition for Immigrant Women’s Rights has developed a policy principle that we hope guides the thinking of elected leaders in the coming months: “Immigration reform must protect the right of all families to stay together, regardless of immigration status, family structure, sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status, and provide sufficient family-based channels for migration in the future.”p

If lawmakers follow this principle, we will be one step closer to a strong society where all families have the rights, resources, and recognition they need to thrive.

Kalpana Krishnamurthy is the Policy Director at ForwardTogether and leads the Strong Families Policy Task Force.  Moira Bowman is the Deputy Director for Forward Together.

This post is part of We All Dream, a series of blogs, conversations and actions by Strong Families to support all families affected by immigration policies.

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