Monday, May 21, 2007

The Grand Faustian Bargain

It was hailed by its negotiators as the "Grand Bargain" but it’s Faustian at best.

In exchange for providing some temporary relief to the estimated 12 million illegal aliens in the US, the White House and members of the US Senate agreed to an immigration reform bill that would permanently eliminate family preference visas - and replace them with a “merit-based” point system that may bar most temporary workers from adjusting their status to permanent residence.

The avowed goal was to fix the broken immigration system by “balancing the needs of families, employers, our economy, and our national security to make legality the norm in our country.” Instead they produced what the American Immigration Lawyers Association calls “a cobbling of compromises" which may be cobbled by more compromises in the Senate and later in the House.

Family Preferences Eliminated

Under the proposed bill, US citizens would no longer be allowed to petition their adult unmarried children (1st preference). They would also be barred from petitioning their married children (3rd) and their siblings (4th), and, for the first time, their petition for their parents would be subject to numerical limitations (40,000 a year).

Immigrants would no longer be able to petition their adult unmarried children (2nd preference) and petitioning their spouses and minor children would be subject to a worldwide total quota of 87,000 a year.

This bill will directly impact the Filipino American community at both ends of the bargain. Under current immigration law, each country is allotted a maximum of 20,000 immigrant visas a year, divided equally among five family preference visas. For the Philippines, the 3rd preference (married children of US citizens) has a current priority date of January 1, 1985.

As there are 4,000 visas for this category annually, the 22-year wait means that there are 88,000 (22 X 4,000) already in line, waiting for their priority dates to be current for their visas to be issued. As the spouse and minor children of the petitioned married son/daughter are derivative beneficiaries of this petition, the 88,000 would actually mean an average of 200,000.

Immigrants in Waiting

The 4th preference (siblings of US citizens) also has a priority date of January 1, 1985. For similar reasons, there are also 200,000 Filipinos in this category with approved visas awaiting their priority dates. Together with another 60,000 on the waiting list in the 1st preference (unmarried adult children of US citizens), another 20,000 in the 2nd preference A (spouses and minor children of immigrants), and 44,000 in the 2nd preference B (adult unmarried children of immigrants), the total of Filipino immigrants-in-waiting in the Philippines is over 500,000.

The proposed bill would not eliminate those already in line, except for those visa petitions filed after May 1, 2005, an arbitrary cut-off date. The good news for those who filed their petitions before that date is that their relatives would no longer have to wait for as long as 22 years as the bill will allot 440,000 visas a year to clear the backlog of the family-based categories, a process estimated to take eight years to complete.

At the other end of the bargain, it is estimated that there are anywhere from 500,000 to a million Filipinos in the US who are out of status (TNTs) - living in the shadows (tago nang tago) in marginalized existence, many on subsistence wages and always dreading (takot na takot) the day when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents come to incarcerate and deport them.

“Z” Non-immigrants Visas

Title VI of this bill will create a new four-year renewable “Z” non-immigrant visa for those living in the US illegally who entered the country before January 1, 2007. To obtain the probationary Z visa, these aliens would be required to remain employed, maintain a clean criminal record, submit biometric fingerprints, be cleared by one-day background checks, and pay an initial fee of $1000. Anyone who has committed a crime would be ineligible for this visa.

For the Z nonimmigrant to obtain an immigrant visa and a path to citizenship, he or she will have to satisfy certain merit requirements, file the application for adjustment of status in the alien country of origin and pay a penalty fee of $4,000. That can be done only after the backlog of family-based visas has been completed for his/her home country, however.

For Z visa holders from the Philippines, where it will take at least eight years to clear the family backlog, the earliest a Z applicant can apply a for a visa is 8 years. The Z applicant must have an employer, a high merit point, who will be willing to wait the year or two that the applicant waits in the Philippines for his/her visa to be processed. Some employers may not be able to wait that long to hold a vacant position.

Triggers before “Z” Visas

After obtaining an immigrant visa, the Z immigrant will not be able to petition his or her parents, siblings or adult children even after obtaining US citizenship five years after acquiring the immigrant visa. More, before the Z visas can be issued, certain “triggers” have to occur, including hiring an additional 18,000 border patrol agents, building 370 miles of fencing and erecting 70 ground-based radar and camera towers along the southern U.S. border - a process that could take years. The bill will also stiffen laws and penalties relating to employers who hire illegal aliens, requiring all of them to electronically verify employees, including new hires and current employees.

The proposed bill faces stiff opposition from House Republicans opposed to any bill that would provide “amnesty” to illegal aliens. To pass the House, certain concessions may be made that could eviscerate the bill. House Republicans need to be convinced, like Pres. George W. Bush that it would be impossible to deport 12 million illegals from the US, and that keeping them in the shadows is not in the interests of US national security.

For the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos who pray day and night for a law that would allow them the opportunity to work legally, obtain a driver’s license and potentially to obtain a green card, this bill is the best opportunity in years to reach that goal. If it doesn’t pass this year, it will take years before a similar opportunity comes along again, if ever.

CALL 1-800-417-7666

Because the Filipino community in the US will be greatly impacted by this bill, we have to make our voices heard on this issue. Please call your senators today and tell them how important family-based immigration is to you. When you dial 1-800-417-7666, you will be automatically connected to the senators representing the phone number/area code you are using. Please let them know that you and your family benefited from family reunification and that you want them to embrace family values and oppose the elimination of the family-based preferences.

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