Immigrant advocates alarmed by turn in reform deals

Call on senators to preserve family reunification visas

March 22, 2013

Immigrant rights advocates rallied at the Federal plaza in downtown Chicago Friday to raise the alarm over reported compromises on comprehensive immigration reform, and to tell U.S. lawmakers to introduce a bill quickly. The gathering, organized by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, staged a peaceful act of civil disobedience by forming a line to block traffic on S. Dearborn Street for a few minutes. Chicago police issued citations to about twenty of them, including Chicago aldermen Daniel Solis (25th), Joseph Moreno (1st) and Ariel Reboyras (30th).

Media leaks have suggested that U.S. senators might be willing to eliminate family reunification visas for adult and married children, and for siblings, in order to garner Republican support. African and Asian immigrant advocates in Chicago said Friday that this would particularly hurt their communities.

“That means that that person who comes for a job, they have to make a decision as to whether they’ll be reunited with their siblings ever again,” said Tuyet Le of the Asian American Institute.“These different issues in immigration reform are being used as chips, and so these are chips rather than being seen as families.”

Of the five countries with the longest waiting periods for non-nuclear family reunification visas, four are Asian: the Philippines, India, China, and Vietnam. For some visas, none wait longer than Filipinos — up to 24 years in some cases.

“The day that my father’s younger brother’s petition came in was the day that (my father) was in the Phillippines for his funeral,” said Kristina Tendilla, a young Filipina-American activist. Tendilla said her father petitioned his two adult brothers and his adult sister to join him in the U.S. in the late 1980s. “That’s what he wanted, was someday to be united with his brother and sister, and he didn’t have that chance because two of them died and one is still waiting for a family visa.”

Odette Yousef is WBEZ’s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her at @oyousef.