U.S. Citizen Rights Deserve a Place in Family Separation Decisions

The Problem

The Immigration and National Act may ordinarily deny foreign nationals permission to live in the United States for many reasons. Immigration workers and judges can sometimes balance other factors to waive these reasons, and for many populations, this discretion is broad. However, for U.S. citizens who petition for their spouse or child to immigrate, officials can consider the simplest non-compliance with administrative law and less serious violations of criminal law only. The gap in the middle -- reasons graver than the simplest administrative non-compliance but less consequential than criminal convictions -- fuels family separation of U.S. citizens.

The Scope

More than 1.4 million U.S. citizens have experienced family separation because their family includes the spouse of a U.S. citizen who has been refused a visa or deported from the United States; another 2.8 million U.S. citizens are facing the possibility of family separation for this reason. Because many of these separations are permanent under current law, this number grows by 20,000 U.S. citizens or more each year. The most damaging instances involve family separation for more than 25 years.

The Solution

The bi-partisan American Families United Act would address this issue by allowing U.S. citizens to request a waiver of inadmissibility for a non-citizen family member, provided that these waivers be:

  • available for the spouse or child of a U.S. citizen only;
  • available only when the non-citizen is not a national security threat and has no history of serious criminal activity; and,
  • reviewed on a case-by-case basis and not through executive action.

Public Opinion

A poll of 1,200 registered voters across the United States by SurveyUSA found widespread support for the American Families United Act. 56% of registered voters support the American Families United Act. Only 10% of registered voters oppose. The rest are either neutral or don't know. Support holds at a margin of at least 4:1 across parties for registered Republicans, Democrats, and Independents.