As President Trump continues his call to limit family-based immigration, an increasing number of immigrants residing in the US are filing petitions to bring eligible family members to America, in case an immigration bill restricting family reunification is eventually passed. Currently, the US immigration system allows for family reunification (what President Trump derisively calls “chain migration,”) where in certain cases Green Card holders or citizens can sponsor eligible relatives to come to the US. President Trump has proposed limiting family-based immigration to immediate family members, including spouses and minor children, and restricting it for parents, siblings, and adult children.
This proposal, although it is not law, has led to an uptick in petitions filed on behalf of eligible relatives, in case the current law changes. Nancy Burrion, a naturalized citizen who lives in Houston, was originally brought to the US by her parents from Central America. Burrion and her siblings are currently anticipating paying up to $10,000 in attorney’s fees in order to sponsor their mother, Brigida, so that she can gain legal status. Brigida, along with 200,000 other El Salvadorians, has been allowed to live and work in the US under Temporary Protected Status (TPS) since a pair of disastrous earthquakes struck her native country of El Salvador in 2001; however, the Trump administration rescinded this TPS, forcing El Salvadorians like Brigida to find an alternate path to legal status or make preparations to leave the US in the coming months. “I want to make sure that she doesn’t go anywhere, that she is going to stay here with us, which is her family,” Burrion tells NPR.
The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) reports that many immigration practitioners across the US are noting a significant increase in consultations regarding family-based immigration. Attorney Maurice Goldman, who works in a small family firm in Tucson, Arizona, has been working long hours and weekends to keep up with all of his new clients. Goldman acknowledges that many of these clients are in for a long wait. Congress has imposed caps on immigrants from certain countries including Mexico, India, and the Philippines as well as on categories of family members, making the wait for a Green Card decades long in some cases. The current processing time for a sponsor to petition for legal status for their sibling from Mexico is at least twenty years. The recent surge of family-based immigrant petitions could potentially add additional years to these already long wait times.
President Trump has claimed that even if new limits are imposed on family-based immigration, this will not affect applicants who have already filed petitions. Still, many are scrambling to petition for their loved ones to come the US as soon as possible, fearful that they soon may not be able to. Katie Mullins, an immigration attorney in San Antonio who works for the advocacy group Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), says people are “freaked out,” describing one scenario: “They’re nervous that their 22-year-old daughter who lives in their country of origin is going to be completely denied the opportunity that she would otherwise have to come here on a family-based petition.”