There are two shifts in immigration policy that are critical for the well-being of families. First, policy should shift to accelerate family reunification for those families whose visas have been accepted. Families are currently separated from their children for years, caught in a holding pattern of waiting. This leads to stress, grief, and difficulty building relationships during key developmental times in a child’s life. Accelerating processing applications and shorter wait times would facilitate greater family well-being.
Second, policy could provide greater protection for vulnerable children in undocumented or mixed-status families. In cases where a parent is deported, the child’s welfare should be carefully considered in whether to leave the child in the care of a local caregiver or provide the option to send the child to the home country with their parent.
Recent Policy Changes and the Impact on Families
Since his presidential campaign, President Trump and his administration has placed immense attention on immigration policies. As a result, many recent policy changes and efforts related to immigration enforcement and refugee resettlement have greatly impacted immigrant and refugee families (Pierce, 2019). We highlight here two key policies, the lowering of the refugee admissions cap, and the introduction of new vetting requirements.
Lowering of the refugee admissions
Since the creation of the U.S. refugee resettlement program in 1980, the annual admission of refugees has hit an all-time low within the fiscal year of 2019 with a ceiling cap of 30,000 admissions. Yet the actual refugee admissions and arrivals are even lower, with only 12,154 actual admissions being granted within the first 6 months of the fiscal year (Meissner & Gelatt, 2019; Pierce, 2019). This policy change directly affects the possibility of family reunification, especially in families where partners are not legally married (Solis, 2019).
New vetting requirements
The Trump administration has introduced new vetting requirements for refugees, citing national security risk as a primary reason. This expansion of vetting has increased the amount of information needed for visa applications, such as providing prior years of travel or even usernames to social media accounts (Pierce, Bolter, & Selee, 2018). In addition, resettlement applications of refugees from 11 countries perceived as “high risk” to national security have been reduced on the priority list (Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen). Yet reports by the National Counterterrorism Center in 2017 have shown that terrorists are unlikely to use resettlement programs as a means to enter the United States (Meissner & Gelatt, 2019; Pierce, 2019). A former director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agrees that the increased vetting requirements of refugees appears unnecessary as the vetting procedures in place are already rigorous enough to identify any potentially problematic applicant (Rodriguez, 2017).
These policies have implications for both our communities and for individual refugee families. A draft report conducted by the Health and Human Services in the summer of 2017 found that between 2005 and 2014, refugees contributed an estimated amount of $269.1 billion dollars in revenues to the U.S. government (Davis & Sengupta, 2017), income that may be stemmed by the low admissions ceiling and longer processing times due to increased vetting procedures. for refugee families, these new vetting procedures adds to the long waiting times for family reunification as it backlogs cases. Family members have to wait longer as they undergo and complete additional requirements and it prolongs their cases such that delays can amount to decades. For some, reunification becomes nearly impossible (Hooper & Salant, 2018). Furthermore, applicants seeking refuge or asylum from countries on the high risk list are turned away from immediate protection as their applications continue to float in the system for review of any potential security risk. Thus many may have to stay in a country where they continue to face violence and persecution as they wait.