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SUNDAY, MAY 20, 2007

No more ‘chain migration’
New immigration plan changes rules for relatives

NEW YORK (AP) — Nabila Khan wouldn’t be in the United States if it weren’t for her sister.

Her sister sponsored Khan’s immigration from Pakistan. Four years ago, Khan started the process to do the same for another sister, the only one left in their native land.

They are family, she says, and have a bond that hasn’t lessened despite the distance between them and the years they’ve been separated.

An agreement to change the American immigration system announced Thursday by a bipartisan group of senators would put severe restrictions on the family members immigrants can sponsor for visas.

The agreement would alter the rules governing automatic family reunification — being eligible for a visa because of a relative.

It would limit eligibility to the spouses and minor children of American citizens. Adult children and siblings — who can be sponsored by an American citizen under the current rules — would need other criteria to qualify. Bringing parents over would also be difficult.

But in cultures around the world, aunts and uncles are surrogate parents, cousins are as close as siblings, and blood ties stay strong through multiple generations.

“It’s the social system we were raised in, that’s what we grew up with,” said Khan, a housewife in her mid-40s who lives in Brooklyn. “If they eliminate these categories altogether, I think it would be a disaster emotionally.”

President Bush and other supporters view the family sponsorship rules as a crucial reform.

Allowing family members to bring relatives who in turn are eligible to bring other relatives — known as “chain migration” — is not the way to run an immigration system, said Robert Rector, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

“We can be selective so that the people who come here are actually making the United States better off,” he said.

“Immigration really should be about benefiting American citizens,” Rector said. “Kinship ties are at best irrelevant to that.”

Part of becoming an American is adapting to the nation’s cultural norms such as the nuclear family, supporters say.

“In our immigration policy, we have to look out for the well-being of America and Americans first,” said Caroline Espinosa, spokeswoman for NumbersUSA, which supports immigration restrictions. “While we can respect different cultures, we cannot always accommodate them.”

But even at the height of the traditional nuclear family in the 1950s, only 60 percent of American families followed that model, said Katherine Allen, professor of human development and family studies at Virginia Tech.

Applying the definition of the traditional nuclear family to immigrants, Allen said, would be holding people from other countries to a standard that many Americans don’t even meet.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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