Immigration Bill Called ‘Mixed Blessing’ for Families

Times Staff Writer

While applauding the turnaround by immigration officials in proposing that relatives of aliens who qualify for amnesty be allowed to remain in the United States, immigrants rights’ advocates expressed concern Wednesday that other provisions in the bill would limit family unification for others.

“I look upon this as a real mixed blessing . . . a serious trade-off,” said Linda Wong, a leader in a Los Angeles coalition of immigrants’ rights groups.

A key provision in the proposed legislation, which is being circulated by U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service officials in Washington, would speed up immigration for relatives of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who have had to wait as long as 11 years to join relatives in the United States. But once these backlogs are cleared, the bill would phase out this privilege for permanent residents.


“If people buy into this, they have to acknowledge that another group of people will no longer have the privilege of petitioning for relatives to join them in the United States,” Wong said.

INS Western Regional Commissioner Harold Ezell, however, at a press conference Wednesday urged public support of the bill.

Ernest Gustafson, the agency’s Los Angeles district director, estimated that more than 100,000 aliens in his district alone would benefit from the proposal to issue special visas to grant legal status to the spouses and dependent children of immigrants who qualify for amnesty. He said that the proposal places no numerical limit on how many immigrants may qualify for the benefit, but he added that there would probably be a deadline on how recently someone could have entered the country and still qualify.

Ezell advised immigrants that if they did not list their close relatives on their amnesty applications, they should do so during their next scheduled INS interview, since those lists will form the basis for determining eligibility.

While the draft proposal is still vague on implementation procedures, the INS officials said that immigrants would probably go through a formal application period and eventually be granted permanent residency with the same benefits of amnesty.

Meanwhile, eligible immigrants apprehended by the INS will be given a document permitting them to remain and work in the country for as long as their amnesty-qualifying relatives have permission to stay, the officials said.

The family unification provision is a key part of a legislative package developed by the INS as “a blueprint for future legal immigration,” said INS regional spokesman John Belluardo. Now that illegal immigration has been addressed through the 1986 immigration reform law that established amnesty and sanctions against employers who hire illegal aliens, Belluardo said, “The time is right to address the reform of legal immigration.”

The proposal, he said, seeks to determine “who Congress thinks is suitable to enter the United States in terms of making a significant contribution.” Belluardo added that a new category of visas for “independent” immigrants would not take away from family unification categories.

Shift of Focus

But immigrant advocates argue that the INS proposal, like another immigration reform bill authored by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and approved by the Senate, would shift the focus from traditional family unification as the basis of immigration to favoring petitioners with higher educational levels, English proficiency and other skills. They charge that in effect, this would diminish immigration from Latin America and Asia, while increasing immigration from Western Europe.

Peter Schey of the National Center for Immigrants’ Rights Inc. said that the measures that favor “white-collar and skilled immigrants” would “wipe out the gains” of the amnesty program by further encouraging illegal immigration.

“Husbands and wives (and their children) will live together whether or not they have a piece of paper from the INS permitting them to do so,” he said. “That’s a reality that any proposed legislation needs to face and come to grips with.”