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Amendments that Matter: Path to Citizenship—Family Unity

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If you think the Senate Judiciary Committee’s markup of the Gang of 8 bill has been intense so far, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. As the SJC moves into Titles II and III of the bill—which cover everything from E-Verify to detention policy to family immigration to agricultural workers, not to mention the path to citizenship itself—we’re highlighting some of the major areas we expect to see addressed, and the amendments we’re particularly hopeful about or upset by within each one. That’s why we’ve started this “Amendments that Matter” blog series. Below we write about family unity amendments in the Senate Gang of 8 bill.

Also view our list of key amendments filed in the Senate Judiciary Committee to S. 744

One of the pillars of immigration reform that advocates have been fighting for most fiercely is family unity, or the provisions and amendments that will allow immediate family members outside the US to reunite with their loved ones here.  This would include dependent children living away from their working parents, and parents, spouses, and DREAMers who have been deported away from their families.  Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI), an immigrant herself, has been a champion in the fight to ensure that immigration reform will bring separated families back together.  Here are two amendments we’re supporting from her:

  • The Senate Gang of 8 immigration bill, if signed into law, would turn current undocumented immigrants (those who are eligible) into immigrants with Registered Provisional Status (RPIs).  RPIs would have to wait at least 10 years before becoming legal permanent residents, and at least three years more to become US citizens.  Hirono 13 would allow RPIs who are the immediate relatives of US citizens/permanent residents to shorten their waiting period to become permanent residents, by applying for that status via their family tie rather than through the RPI program.
  • Hirono 14 would allow RPIs to petition for dependent children and spouses living outside the United States to obtain RPI status and potentially be reunited with them in the US.

Hirono’s amendments stand in contrast against two that we wrote about earlier, Grassley 8, which would bar certain immigrants from obtaining RPI status because of the state in which they live, and Sessions 24, which would strike the immigration bill’s return provisions altogether and ban all immigrants who have ever been deported (and who have since returned) from legalization.

The latter would bar Felipe Montes and his three US citizen children from ever being able to return to the US.  Two years ago, Felipe was detained by immigration authorities and deported for driving violations in the Appalachian town of Sparta, North Carolina.  Without Felipe’s income and support, his wife was left unable to keep the family afloat, and the Alleghany County child welfare department took the three children away from her and put them in foster care.  It was only after immigrants’ rights  groups created petitions and gathered over 20,000 signatures that Felipe was granted a rare humanitarian visa to come back to the US—temporarily—to argue for custody of his own children.  The case dragged on for months, but Felipe was eventually able to regain custody of the three.  Unfortunately, because Felipe still had no papers to be in the US, he was forced to take his (again, US citizen) children to where he was living in Tamaulipas, Mexico—a place none of them had ever been.  Under the current Senate immigration bill and Hirono’s amendments, the Montes children could go back to their home in North Carolina, Felipe could be petitioned for, and the Montes family could be reunited here in the US at long last.