Cameron Ventura, Immigration Activist
Once upon a time, the family was the backbone of American culture. Thinking back to the era of “Leave it to Beaver” and “The Andy Griffith Show” – we remember that the place of the family unit is a traditional aspect of what it means to be “American”. For generations, young people look forward to the day they say their vows before their families, get their first mortgage, and have children. This elicits pictures of 4th of July barbecues, family reunions at the lake, and even the occasional sharing of tears around a casket. We were created to experience a myriad of emotions and events alongside a select group of people we call family. In many ways, the fairly new culture of this country capitalized on strength and resolve generated by these connections – establishing a society weaved intimately with the thread of family relationships.
When my great-grandfather came through Ellis Island in 1901 from Sicily, the process was quite simple – as it was for everyone coming before 1921. What happened in 1921 (and again in 1924)? Due to growing concerns about the number of people immigrating from southern and eastern Europe (yes, this would include Sicily), Congress drafted and passed legislation drastically limiting the ease of migration. These new laws (The Emergency Quota Act of 1921 and The Immigration Act of 1924) limited the number of individuals who could immigrate from a specific country to not exceed 3% (1921) or 2% (1924) of the total US citizens from that country, yearly. Since most citizens were from western Europe, this enabled a much higher percentage of migrants from western Europe. If you were unfortunate enough to be from Czechoslovakia or Prague, or even worse, from Burma or Iraq, you most likely wouldn’t be admitted.
Not much happened by way of immigration legislation for the next forty years. In 1965, Senators Hart and Celler crafted new legislation to renovate the US immigration policy. The thought was that simply basing admittance on nationality was a poor idea. They refocused admittance onto the skills of immigrants and the immigrant’s family relations already present in the country. For the first time since 1920, regardless of numbers, if your immediate family lived in the United States, you could be reunited with them. This legislation also abolished the quota percentages per country – instead of allowing 170,000 visas for every country, leveling the immigration playing field for each country (including, for the first time, limits on migration from Western Europe).
The Hart-Celler Act provided an immigration policy that more aligned with the American values of the 60s. This act sent a clear message to the world that a strong America was based and intimately connected to a strong family. This new policy was the result of realizing that keeping parents from children and brothers from their sisters added unnecessary stress and truly weakened the fabric of our society.
Since 2015 the concept of family-based immigration policy has been brutally attacked. Titled, “Chain-migration” – opponents of this concept have fought to re-frame the conversation. The new narrative claims that allowing immigrants with legal status to sponsor the immigration of their immediate family is a negative aspect of our policy and is weakening our country. Before going farther, I must clarify that to sponsor anyone you must prove an income of 125% of the poverty line to demonstrate the ability to support the applicant. This has profound implications, including the reality that US citizen children can’t sponsor their parents (for two reasons; to sponsor you must be at least 21 years old, and you must still meet the 125% of poverty income line).
Do you want to know what’s really weakening our country? Our current policy that says if a US Citizen child has a parent who is undocumented, that parent is a prime target for deportation. And while we do have provisions that state if a parent can prove that their deportation will cause “profound hardship” to the child, they may be able to stay. HOWEVER, this is capped at 5,000 waivers per year. The very fact that this is a possibility is rough enough – the fact that it is a reality is disgusting – the fact that we are now hearing the narrative from politicians and groups like FAIR calling for these individuals to be prioritized is obscene.
This isn’t just a President Trump issue. This was going on long before he stepped into office. In 2008, Pew Hispanic Center reported that between 2005 and 2007, thirteen thousand American children had one or both parents deported. How far have we come from prioritizing the family unit?
As a final point, in 2010 Pew Forum Survey found that just 9% of Protestant Christians say that their views of immigration are primarily influenced by their Christian faith. Before jumping to conclude that you can’t be part of the 91% who haven’t allowed the gospel to influence your opinions – I invite you to step back and consider why you feel the way you do about immigration. Evaluate how you think and feel about “chain-migration”. Wrestle with the fact that without the outcry of humanitarians and Christians alike, this administration will progress with plans to keep families from the potential of being unified as US citizens, and to separate families currently living here together.
Grace and peace.
Memphis immigration Project exists to engage issues of Immigration from a biblical perspective.