WASHINGTON -- As the Senate considers protections for "Dreamers," the debate has quickly turned to the question of whether those who achieve legal status should be able to sponsor loved ones to join them in the United States.
The White House, with legislation crafted by GOP leaders, wants to block future immigrants from being able to petition for relatives beyond spouses and minor children. President Donald Trump rejects what he calls "chain migration," a term others view as derisive, in favor of giving visas to immigrants with specific technology skills or other sought-after experience.
More specifically, Republicans want to prevent the nearly 700,000 Dreamers from helping the parents who brought them to the U.S. illegally as children earn permanent legal status. GOP senators bristle at the idea of favoring the parents, while other would-be immigrants endure a decades-long waiting list for visas.
"We have to end the practice of extended-family chain migration, because we'd create a whole new pool of immigrants who could bring in their parents who created the problem in the first place," Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said Monday on Hugh Hewitt's radio show.
Dreamers were given temporary work permits and protected from deportation under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which Trump wants to terminate.
For decades, family migration has been the bedrock of U.S. immigration law, rooted in the belief that immigrants should be able to unify with their loved ones.
While there are no limits on a new citizen's ability to sponsor a spouse, children and parents, immigration law imposes strict caps on visas for other relatives. The only other relatives allowed to be sponsored are siblings and adult children -- not grandparents, aunts or uncles of citizens or green-card holders, as Cotton and others claim.
About 240,000 slots are available a year, creating a backlog that now counts nearly 4 million applicants, according to the Migration Policy Institute. The wait from some countries, including Mexico, stretches 20 years.
Many young Dreamers and those in the DACA program fear their parents could face deportation unless they are able to apply for legal status too. Current law requires those here illegally to return to their home countries for 10 years before they can apply to re-enter the U.S., leaving jobs and families. Experts say most are unlikely to do so.
"For many people, if it's a choice between staying here as they've been, and living a bit in the shadows, or separating from their families for 10 years to get a green card, many would rather stay with their families and tough it out," said Julia Gelatt, a senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute.