One of the key issues of immigration reform is what to do about the backlog of people already in line, legally, waiting for visas to become available? The "path to citizenship" under discussion for undocumented workers is meaningless, if someone can't get a green card until the early 2030s.
Well, the so-called "Gang of Eight" (Democrats Schumer, Menendez, Bennet, and Durbin, plus four Republicans) have reached agreement on this issue. And as the New York Times reports, these Democrats have apparently signed off on a plan to clear the backlog in the most cruel, unjustifiable way possible: telling a large fraction of the millions who have been waiting patiently in line that they are no longer eligible to receive visas.
Among proposals to reduce backlogs is a plan to accelerate green card applications of foreigners living legally in the United States who have been waiting to receive their documents for 10 years or more. . . . The plan would also free up additional green cards by eliminating a category of foreigners who are now eligible for those visas: siblings of United States citizens.
You may be thinking "Surely this is prospective only; people in line won't be affected!" The problem is, that wouldn't make sense, because cutting off prospective immigrants doesn't clear the backlog; it just keeps the backlog from growing.
Here's how it works: U.S. Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents may sponsor their family members for visas, which come in several categories: (1) spouses, minor children, and parents of citizens, (2) spouses and children of LPRs, (3) unmarried adult children of citizens, (4) married adult children of citizens, and (5) brothers and sisters of citizens. The family member files a petition for her relatives, and once it is approved, the family member is eligible to obtain a visa.
However, since there is a hard limit on the number of visas available per category, there are many more approved petitions than available visas. There is no limit for parents, minor children and spouses of citizens. There are 114,000 visas for the spouses and children of LPRs per year. But only 23,400 unmarried adult children can get family visas each year; the same number of married adult children people can get visas each year, and 65,000 brothers and sisters can get visas each year. No country can get more than 7.5% of these visas.
Why the backlogs? Well, there are a hell of a lot more eligible people per category, than there are visas available. So, right now, when a U.S. citizen sponsors a visa for her sister, the sister's petition will be approved (i.e., she's eligible) but then she has to wait in line to apply for a visa until everyone ahead of her has received one.
The State Department publishes a monthly list of the "priority dates" for available visas. The backlogs are apparent. Unmarried adult children of citizens have a 5 year line right now; people who petitioned in March 2008 are now eligible. Married adult children have over a 10-year line; people deemed eligible back in July 2002 are only now able to apply for a visa. Spouses of lawful permanent residents have a 2 year line, and adult unmarried children of LPRs have about an 8 year wait. Siblings of citizens have a longer wait. Right now, the front of the line is people who applied in May 2001. It's even worse for siblings from Mexico (September 1996) and the Philippines (August 1989!!) because these countries are affected by that 7.5% cap I talked about - only 4,875 Mexican siblings and 4,875 Filipino siblings can get visas each year.
With that background, the Times article makes sense: siblings will no longer be eligible for visas. Their 65,000 yearly visas will be given to the other family preference categories, speeding up the visa process for those families at the direct expense of brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens, who followed the rules, and who have been waiting up to 20 years to get a green card. It is intolerable to treat people this way.
We'll see the legislative language early next week. To be fair, there's a chance that the Times is leaving out details or has it wrong. But Republican members of the "Gang of Eight" have made it clear that they don't want family visas; they want to shift us to a "work" based visa system.
But if this is truly the plan--to crush families who have played by the rules and who have, in good faith, been waiting for the American dream--then kill this fucking bill, and shame on the Democrats who agreed to it.