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Immigration reform: When is family reunification also 'chain migration'?

Immigration reform legislation promises expedited reunification for millions of families awaiting visas, but critics caution that the overhaul could also produce uncontrolled 'chain migration.'

By Staff writer / May 6, 2013

Demonstrators calling for immigration reform marched to the Minnesota State Capitol for a May Day rally in St. Paul, Minn., on May 1.

Jim Mone/AP

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WASHINGTON

The bipartisan immigration reform legislation being debated in the US Senate would have a massive effect on families split by America's current immigration system, with proponents cheering the reunification of husbands with wives and children with parents, while detractors see only a surge in what they call "chain migration" that would bring many new, low-skilled workers into the country.

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The bill has high stakes for people like Lance Paxton, a Michigan man who is weighing the need to move to Canada in order to reunite with his family.

Mr. Paxton’s wife, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico when they married nearly a decade ago, is barred from returning to the United States for most of the next decade under existing US law and is living in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, with the family's two young daughters.

While Paxton, a real estate salesman, sends the vast majority of his earnings to his family in Mexico, the financial situation isn’t tenable over the long term. His wife found a job in Canada and will soon find out whether her visa application has been approved. Without reform, Paxton says, he and his family are moving to Canada – or he’s moving to Mexico. 

A proposed Senate bill, however, would revamp how the American immigration system deals with families like the Paxtons and millions more separated by long wait times for certain family visas or young undocumented Americans who have seen parents and other family members deported at record levels under the Obama administration

The proposed Senate bill offers several avenues for families who have been separated to be brought back together.

  • It allows all US citizens and permanent residents to petition for their spouses, children, or parents who have been deported or barred from the US to reenter the country under a more-generous standard of hardship, for example.
  • It would also allow young undocumented people, known as DREAMers for the bill that would give them a special path to citizenship, who have been deported in recent years to apply for a similar waiver, allowing them to return to the US.
  • The bill also would wipe out the 4.5 million people waiting in family-based immigration backlogs over the next decade, bringing those who could have lingered as long as 20 years into the country over the next decade.
  • Another provision ensures that some families aren’t split apart in the first place. Legal permanent residents, also known as green card holders, will be allowed to bring spouses and children into the US with them immediately. It would also allow some temporary workers to enter the US with their children and spouses.
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