Press Release

Menendez, Gillibrand Introduce Legislation to Reinforce Family Unity in Immigration System

May 20, 2009

Washington, D.C. – US Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), along with Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) today introduced legislation to re-emphasize family unity in the US immigration system. The Reuniting Families Act would help legal immigrants reunite with their families and end decade-long waiting times for legal immigrant visas.

Senator Menendez said: “Family unity is a deeply-rooted American value, and it should continue to be a main ideal by which we draw our newest Americans. Strong, unified families help maintain stable communities and tend to work hard, pay taxes and start businesses that create jobs. We have clear societal and economic reasons to ensure that family reunification is at the core of our legal immigration system. As a nation with a history rooted in immigrants arriving here to reunite with their loved ones, this approach embodies our American values. Our family immigration system is broken – it has not been updated in 20 years and many families wait decades to immigrate legally to this country. This bill will help legal immigrants reunite with their families rather than forcing them to wait for years apart.”

Senator Gillibrand said: “As a mother of two young boys, I know that every day away from your family is an eternity. Family is the cornerstone of our society. That’s why I am honored to work with Senator Menendez and other colleagues in Congress to reform America’s family-based immigration system to reunite loved ones, promote family stability and foster the economic growth that immigrant families have provided throughout our history.”

Senator Schumer said: “No matter our disagreements about how to reform our immigration laws, we can at least agree that families should not be made to suffer in the process. We can have a policy that is tough, but fair, and emphasizing family unity as a principle is key to ensuring that fairness.”

The legislation would reinforce the historical emphasis on families in the immigration system and reduce current wait times in the family immigration system by:

  • Helping an estimated 322,000 spouses and children under the age of 21 of lawful permanent residents who are waiting in line to reunite with their families by reclassifying them as immediate relatives
  • Addressing the decades-long backlogs for certain countries by raising the per-country immigration limits from 7 percent to 10 percent of total admissions
  • Protecting widows, widowers and orphans by allowing them to continue to wait in line for a visa after the death of the sponsoring relative.
  • Utilizing an estimated 400,000 family-sponsored and employment-based visas that went unused between 1992 and 2007.
  • Respecting the contribution of Filipino World War II veterans by reducing their children’s waiting times for an immigrant visa.
  • Promoting family unity by allowing more people who are already eligible for an immigrant visa to efficiently use our legal family immigration system.
  • Providing equal treatment for stepchildren and biological children by allowing stepchildren under the age of 21 to immigrate upon their parents’ marriage (current age limit is 18).