Trump sup­ported im­mi­gra­tion leg­is­la­tion spurs out­cry

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - WORLD -

Yar­itza Men­dez is an Amer­i­can cit­i­zen thanks to an im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem that has been built around fam­ily con­nec­tions for more than 50 years.

Since 1965, im­mi­grants turned-Amer­i­can cit­i­zens can serve as spon­sors to their par­ents, chil­dren and sib­lings and help them be­come le­gal res­i­dents and then U.S. cit­i­zens. It’s a sys­tem that al­lowed Men­dez’s grand­mother to bring her son to the U.S. from the Do­mini­can Re­pub­lic about a decade ago, which in turn al­lowed him to spon­sor her.

The fam­ily-based im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem would be com­pletely up­ended by pro­posed leg­is­la­tion that got an en­dorse­ment from Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Wed­nes­day. The pro­posal would dras­ti­cally re­duce who’s el­i­gi­ble for fam­ily visas and cut over­all im­mi­gra­tion by 50 per cent within 10 years, giv­ing a pref­er­ence to English speak­ers, ed­u­cated im­mi­grants, high-wage earn­ers and others.

The bill from Repub­li­can Sens. David Per­due of Ge­or­gia and Tom Cot­ton of Arkansas has lit­tle chance of get­ting any­where, with Democrats dis­miss­ing it and even fel­low GOP leg­is­la­tors show­ing lit­tle in­ter­est in any kind of im­mi­gra­tion ac­tion. Op­po­nents are de­cry­ing it as an at­tack on im­mi­grants and on le­gal im­mi­gra­tion it­self, one that has echoes through­out Amer­i­can his­tory.

“I do con­trib­ute to this coun­try

as much as a born Amer­i­can,’’ said Men­dez, who works as an or­ga­nizer at Make the Road New York, an im­mi­grant ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tion. “I do pay my taxes on time. I work and I go out and vote. I should have, and do de­serve, the right to be with my mom.’’

The current sys­tem was en­acted by Pres­i­dent Lyn­don B. John­son in 1965. Be­fore that, the U.S. had quo­tas that al­lowed a set num­ber of peo­ple from cer­tain coun­tries, like those in

Europe, to come but es­sen­tially barred peo­ple from other parts of the world.

The change was backed by the Amer­i­can fam­i­lies of Euro­pean im­mi­grants who wanted to bring over their rel­a­tives.

Congress de­cided to do away with the coun­try-of-ori­gin sys­tem in favour of one where visas were di­vided be­tween all na­tions, but with pref­er­ence go­ing to those peo­ple with fam­ily ties to U.S. cit­i­zens. At the time, many as­sumed the change

would con­tinue to mainly ben­e­fit Euro­pean im­mi­grants.

But im­mi­grants from Asia and Latin Amer­ica used the fam­ily cat­e­gories to bring over their rel­a­tives, cre­at­ing a more di­verse na­tion over time.

“Asian-Amer­i­cans in par­tic­u­lar up­ended it and trans­formed who we are as a peo­ple here in the United States, made it a far more di­verse place and that wasn’t the goal,’’ UCLA his­tory pro­fes­sor Kelly Ly­tle Her­nan­dez.


Yar­itza Men­dez, a city­wide out­reach co­or­di­na­tor for the non-profit Make the Road New York, stands for a photo at the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s of­fice, Thurs­day in New York. With changes in pro­posed leg­is­la­tion that would shift the coun­try from a fam­ily-based im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem to one that gives pref­er­ence to skilled work­ers over fam­ily con­nec­tions, Men­dez, who is also at­tempt­ing to pe­ti­tion for her mother to live in the U.S., and or­ga­ni­za­tions like Make the Road, are stay­ing busy ad­vis­ing clients seek­ing help in nav­i­gat­ing the sys­tem.


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