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The Case for Family-Based Immigration

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Last week was full of grand ideas, announcements and real promise for a commonsense immigration system. In a recent bipartisan poll, 77 percent of Americans agree that our nation must overhaul the immigration system and include a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Across party and racial lines, geographic regions and genders, the message is clear; we must reform our system now.

Any overhaul must improve and strengthen the process for reuniting immigrant families. The backlogs are massive and inhumane. Imagine waiting decades to be reunited with a close family member. Yet that is exactly what many immigrants -- especially those from Asian nations -- are doing. For example, according to a 2011 study by the National Foundation for American Policy, the wait for Filipino immigrants could extend more than 23 years.

Let's look at the facts.

Fact 1: The family-sponsored system is based on our nation's founding principles and values of equality, diversity and opportunity.

Our country was founded by families and individuals seeking better opportunities and freedom from oppression for themselves and their loved ones. Characterizing this heritage as "chain migration" is xenophobic and misleading. An effective system enriches our culture and enhances our democracy.

Fact 2: Families have always been part of our immigration system.

Allowing one immigrant to sponsor close family members hardly opens a "never-ending door" for his or her extended family. Our system does not allow for the sponsorship of aunts, uncles, grandparents or cousins. And for those immediate relatives, the wait times are often brutally long.

Fact 3: Family-immigration is good for our economy.

A robust immigration system will strengthen our nation's standing in this growing global market. Immigrants are 30 percent more likely to start new businesses than native-born Americans and allowing the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. to become citizens would help cut the deficit.

Fact 4: The number of immigrants who enter the U.S. with family-sponsored visas is capped annually.

Our immigration laws only allow only 480,000 immigrants a year through the family system. Each country gets an equal number of family-sponsored visas, which invalidates the argument that there is a never-ending door for new immigration. The average immigrant will reunite with two family members through family-sponsored visas -- hardly a massive influx.

Fact 5: Family-based immigration provides a built-in support system for new immigrants, allowing them to quickly become productive and active community members.

Our immigration system has always been centered on the family unit because research shows that immigrant families are more likely to start their own businesses, contribute to the economy and become active participants of society. Additionally, legal immigrants typically are more skilled than native-born Americans, thereby strengthening our standing in the global economy.

Our nation agrees that the time for reform is now. However, reform should not come at the expense of hard-working families who just want a shot at the American Dream.