Proposed US immigration reforms would end filing for siblings

(Jamaica Gleaner) The much-sought-after United States (US) Green Card, the path to American citizenship for thousands of Jamaicans, could become much more difficult to acquire if proposed changes to that country’s immigration laws are implemented.

The legislation was passed in the US Senate yesterday, and President Barack Obama has urged the House to do the same.

Among the areas which could hurt Jamaicans the hardest is the change which will prevent siblings from applying for each other.

Under the proposal, a US citizen who wants to file for a brother or sister will no longer qualify.

“They are proposing to do away with the brother-sister category, meaning that 18 months after the bill becomes law, no more United States citizens’ brothers would be able to file for sisters anymore. And no more sisters will be able to file for brothers,” said Dahlia Walker Huntington, immigration attorney and Gleaner columnist.

At present, it could take up to 12 years to complete the processing of the application for a Green Card for a brother or sister, but Walker Huntington pointed out that if the proposed changes are accepted, “this category will be no more”.

Forgone conclusion

This position is supported by Caribbean activist Irwin Clare, who told The Gleaner that it is a forgone conclusion that the category of siblings filing with a view towards US citizenship will be lost.

“It’s a lost cause, except for those who are ‘grandfathered’ in the system. As it is, brothers will not be able to petition for immigrant visas for their sisters and vice versa.

“It’s one of the trade-offs, but the conversations continue on the other matters. What is happening is that a war is going on, and all the parties have to come out of this being a winner,” said Clare.

The ‘grandfather clause’ will allow individuals in the system to be processed under old laws.

“One of the things we’re stressing is that if there is someone (brother or sister) available right now to petition for you, do it now, regardless of if it takes 100 years.

“Put your applications in. It is better to be in the system and changes take place rather than wait for changes. Then, you will be outside the system,” added Clare.

The reform bill – crafted by a group of four Democrats and four Republicans in the Senate (the Gang of Eight) – is centred around several major issues, including border controls; family reunification; legal immigration for more high- and low-skilled workers; as well as an E-verify system, which will create an opportunity for many workers already in the US illegally to eventually become citizens.

Some activists believe that the proposed reform will clear up the backlog of visa applications filed by US citizens and Green Card holders.

The reforms – which are said to have their genesis in the beating taken by Republicans in the 2012 US elections – seek to eliminate several categories of filings among immigrant groups, which have voted heavily for the Democratic Party and helped re-elect President Barack Obama.

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