Asian American advocates are urging people who want to sponsor a family member for an immigration visa to apply now, in case Congress eliminates the preferences.
The massive immigration bill passed by the Senate in June would no longer allow United States citizens to get green cards for siblings or married adult children. In the House, which is taking a piecemeal approach to immigration reform, a bill has been introduced that would do away with sibling visas.
Under both proposals, spouses and unmarried children would still be eligible for green cards.
Asians are particularly reliant on family visas to come to the U.S. Nearly half of the more than 4 million people who have applied for family visas are from Asian countries, according to the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. The backlog of applications has resulted in long waits -- more than two decades in some cases.
“We’re saying file now, if you’re thinking about it,” Stewart Kwoh, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles, said at a news conference Tuesday. “Then you’ll be in line if a bill passes and diminishes the ability to file.”
Asian Americans Advancing Justice, formerly known as the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, will begin low-cost family visa clinics next week. For $100, staff members will assist with preparing documents and filling out applications. The clinics are open to those wishing to sponsor children, siblings or spouses to come to the U.S.
Married same-sex couples, who are now entitled to immigration benefits after a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, may also attend.
The Senate bill is unlikely to be taken up by the House, but it has prompted a campaign from Asian American advocacy groups to preserve family visas.
Former state assemblyman Mike Eng is among those who fear that family visas could become a bargaining chip to be relinquished in exchange for more highly skilled worker visas or a path to citizenship for those in the country illegally. The effect on local Asian American communities would be devastating, Eng said.
“This is the most far-reaching, invasive and detrimental proposal for immigration reform on the Asian American community in at least the last four to six decades,” said Eng, who serves on the Los Angeles Community College board of trustees and is also an immigration attorney.
Asian American advocates are also lobbying for a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants, more than 1 million of whom are thought to be from China, the Philippines, India, Korea or Vietnam.
The family visa clinics will be held on the first and third Tuesday of each month from noon to 2 p.m. Appointments can be made by email at email@example.com. Phone numbers for hotlines in Asian languages are on the Asian Americans Advancing Justice website, and interpreters will be provided for clinic sessions.