Though there are substantial barriers to family reunification and well-being, there are also great opportunities. In recent decades, U.S. policy has been gradually changed to be more inclusive and aimed more intensely on family reunification. The case studies below outline different paths to immigration and family reunification. They demonstrate the opportunities and assistance which are available, as well as the challenges faced.
Case Study 1: Becoming a Citizen
Mr. and Mrs. Addisu, both in their early 70s, immigrated to the United States from Ethiopia nearly 15 years ago with sponsorship from their daughter and her United States-born husband. The couple was eager to learn English and embrace the different cultural values, which meant becoming citizens. They wanted to join the country that their child and grandchildren called home.
After filing the appropriate documentation, paying related fees, and waiting for several years, both Mr. and Mrs. Addisu were scheduled for their naturalization test. The Addisu’s daughter helped them study the material. They particularly hoped that their parents could obtain citizenship so that the Addisus could take a long trip home to see their friends in Ethiopia, which they had not been able to do since moving to the United States with strict residency requirements.
But it quickly became apparent that Mr. Addisu had trouble learning English, which was primarily age-related. With assistance from a local church, Mr. Addisu applied for an English Language Exemption. This enabled him to exempt from the English language requirement and take the civics test in Oromo with the assistance of an interpreter.
Case Study 2: Family Reunification
Matias, a United States citizen, filed a petition to request a green card for his daughter Victoria who still lived in Mexico. Victoria had a 15-year old son and a 14-year daughter, who were listed on the petition as “derivative beneficiaries”, eligible to receive a visa if their mother received one. Their petition was approved, and they waited for their priority date. Victoria and her son and daughter continued living in Mexico, they lived on a low income and in a violent neighborhood. They communicated regularly with Matias, and Victoria repeatedly expressed how excited she was to see her dad again, and to be able to provide a better life for her kids. She regularly checked on her application and the priority date, excited for its arrival.
The priority date arrived 7 years later. Victoria’s children were now 22 and 21, and so they were no longer eligible to be derivative beneficiaries on Victoria’s visa. When Victoria learned, she was distraught. She talked to every advocacy group she could find, but there were no options. There would have been services available to expedite their petition as the children approached adulthood, but she and Matias had been unaware.
Victoria talked with her children about the options; they could all remain together in Mexico, or she could travel to the United States and apply for them to join her. One of her children as now working, and the other was attending a technical school. They decided together that it would be best for Victoria to go on to the United States. Once she arrived and became a lawful permanent resident, she filed a petition for her kids to get a visa. It was approved. Once again, the family waited for their priority date. Now, Victoria was with her father, but separated from her kids. It was now her kids she was calling, saying, “I miss you, I am excited to see you, I hope we can be together soon, soon, soon.” After 8 years, the priority date arrived. Victoria’s children, now ages 29 and 30, joined their mother in the United States.
- Think back on your own family history. If you had family immigrate to the United States, what policies were in place when they arrived?
- What would motivate a family to immigrate without documentation? What might make them decide against it?
- What challenges does a child face if their parents do not have documentation?
- What are the arguments for making family reunification quicker and more accessible? What are the arguments against it?
- What barriers did the families in the case studies have to reunification? What supports did they receive?
Migration Policy Institute
- The Migration Policy Institute is “an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide”. They have regular publications and press releases about trends in migration, both to the United States and internationally.
Statue of Liberty Oral History
- The Statue of Liberty – Ellis Island Foundation, Inc. keeps a database of oral histories of immigrants who came through Ellis Island during their migration to America between 1892 to 1954.