According to the Migration Policy Institute, “family unification” accounts for the largest number of applicants seeking “lawful permanent residence” in the United States. And the League of Women Voters notes that “Since 1965, between 50 and 70 percent of U.S. immigrant visas distributed annually have been allotted to close family members of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.” And here is the State Department explaining eligibility and procedures for family reunification.
One of the reasons why so many citizens of Latin American countries are now sending their unaccompanied children illegally and at great danger is the belief that not only will they be able to stay in the United States should they successfully cross the border, but once here, they will also be regularized and able to sponsor for humanitarian reasons family members’ entrance into the United States.
All sides of the immigration debate can agree that the current crisis along the Mexican border is reflective of a broken system, and activists in both the Democratic and Republican parties want to fix the problem, although they disagree starkly in how they would do this.
I wrote before about the lessons reformers can learn from Australia, whose transparent but no-nonsense policy discourages economic migrants who would risk their lives with human smugglers who prey on the desperate. Perhaps the first of these lessons should be to dispense with family unification visas. After all, there are two ways to unify families: One is to bring them into the United States, but the other is to simply tell the immigrant to hop a flight back to the country in which their extended family resides.
There are real reasons why the United States should encourage immigration: It infuses new blood into U.S. society. Legal immigrants can bring skills and investment that benefits the United States economy rather than acts as a drain upon it. The United States was founded as a beacon of liberty, and so it should pride itself on standing up for those who face persecution for their political or religious beliefs.
It should not, however, allow its generosity to be abused. Cohesive, coherent families are important, but travel need not be one way. If immigrants want to visit parents, children, siblings, or cousins, perhaps it’s time to point out that flights leave daily for every Central American capital and many other cities, and that the cost of a ticket is far less than the cost of transferring whole families from these lands into the United States.