Imagine a life without our family: a life without the celebrations, the struggles, and the love that family provides. Almost unimaginable, isn’t it? At its very foundation, human society is organized around the family. It is the vital heart of community, our connection to society. As such, the family is the cornerstone of Christian life and must be respected, preserved and never undermined.
“The well-being of the individual person and of both human and Christian society is closely bound up with the healthy state of the community of marriage and the family,” we read in Gaudium et Spes, (Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World).
In this, our second of three posts about the Church’s advocacy to reform our broken immigration system, we explore the importance of preserving the family as the center of our efforts to welcome the “strangers” in our midst. Many foreign-born people who become Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) or citizens of the United States have been trying for years to reunite with their families here in their new home. They encounter frequent challenges posed by a backlogged and inefficient immigration system. Americans place immeasurable value on family, and thus—as Archbishop Jose Gomez told the Senate Judiciary Committee—family reunification has long been “the cornerstone of U.S. immigration policy.”
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) maintains that any acceptable fix to our immigration system must include a reform of our family-based immigration system to reduce waiting times for reuniting families, based on the union of a husband and a wife and their children. How long are some families waiting? Currently, due to inadequate ceilings for family immigration, some spouses and adult children of LPRs may wait 20 years or longer to reunite. These adult children may be the only family that legal permanent residents have. Imagine waiting 20 years to be with your family!
The U.S. Senate is currently debating an immigration reform package (S. 744) that includes provisions to reorganize family reunification laws. These reforms would reduce the backlog of family applications to reunite families more quickly; classify spouses and children of LPRs as immediate relatives for visa applications; and increase the number of family-based visas.
However, not all of the proposals support family reunification. Many provisions would only serve to keep families apart; for instance, married children of citizens and LPRs would only be eligible for family-based visas if under the age of 31, and the sibling preference category would be eliminated. These provisions hardly reflect the value that our nation places on family.
America has a rich tradition of family-based immigration policy. Over the years our immigrant families have lived the American dream, establishing businesses, faith communities and new traditions. Especially in light of the numerous threats to the family today, it is important that we uphold the importance of the family as the center of Christian community and American life, as well as our immigration policy.