Legal immigration, now under threat from White House, key to reuniting US families

WASHINGTON — When he wants to get his 82-year-old father to exercise, Gianpaolo von Nacher baits him with a trip to his favorite place, Ross Dress for Less.

The ability to monitor his father’s health, cooking with him and having him build a relationship with his daughter are what von Nacher calls “blessings” of bringing his father, Sandro, to live with him in Los Angeles.

 Gianpaolo von Nacher (middle) poses with his daughter, Alejandra, and his father Sandoro in this undated family photo. Courtesy of Gianpaolo von Nacher

“I am who I am, thanks to him,” said von Nacher, who is from Veracruz, Mexico, where his father migrated from Italy. “My mom passed when I was 13. He had to raise us himself. He was always a rock. He taught me what a man is supposed to be as far as being honest, a good husband, loyal, a good worker.”

Foreign national parents, children and siblings of American citizens and legal residents have become the latest target as President Donald Trump and Congress tangle over immigration.

While much of the focus of the immigration debate has been on 800,000 to close to 2 million undocumented immigrants, Trump has pushed family-based immigration into the debate.

Late Thursday, he offered up a path to citizenship for the population of undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers in exchange for a list of border security and immigration enforcement resources, a border wall and significant cuts in the visas reserved for parents, children and siblings of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, about 1 million green cards are given to immigrants each year, with about two-thirds of those green cards for family-based immigration. The law allows U.S. citizens to sponsor for green cards spouses, minor children and parents and there is no numerical cap on how many of those visas can be granted.

U.S. citizens can also sponsor adult children and siblings, and legal permanent residents can sponsor spouses, minor children and adult married children. Those visas do have numerical caps.

Specific details have yet to be drafted but if the White House’s proposal to cut legal immigration succeeds, that means U.S. citizens wouldn’t be able to bring certain family members to the states as von Nacher did.

 Tammy Lin with members of her family, in a 2002 family photo. Bottom row from left to right, her father Cheng-Sen Lin, her mother Julia Lin. Top row, her cousin Ritchie Chen and Lin. Courtesy Tammy Lin

Von Nacher, 47, said he doesn’t see the logic in such a proposal. “I think having family close makes life easier. It makes us more productive. It makes us happier,” said von Nacher, who came to the U.S. on a tennis scholarship. “I don’t see any downside to being able to take care of our parents.”

Immigration attorney Tammy Lin, who was born and raised in Texas, can reel off a list of family members who are now in the United States thanks to family-sponsored visas. Her mother, born in China, became a U.S. citizen and then brought Lin’s grandmother and aunts to the states in the 1970s.

Lin’s father, one of 10 children, also brought his mother to America using the same type of visa. An uncle, who was also in the U.S., brought brothers and sisters who brought their children, Lin’s cousins, all whom earned college degrees.

Lin’s parents ran a restaurant, so her grandmother helped care for her while they worked.

“Being raised with my grandmother helped me realize a bit about my own history, my culture, my language skills, which helped my career,” said Lin, who learned Mandarin from her grandmother.

Von Nacher, an engineer, saw a similar bond grow between his father and his daughter, Alejandra, now 17. When she visited him in Los Angeles from the Midwest at the age of 10, she had the chance to bond with her grandfather, he said.

“Their relationship is beautiful,” he said. Alejandra has learned to speak Spanish and Italian from her grandfather, learned to cook and now she wants to go to Italy or Mexico, von Nacher said.

 Rose Stanton of Glendale, Calif., poses with her daughter, Stephanie, at a concert they attended last year. Courtesy Rose Stanton

Rose Stanton, 49, met her husband, a U.S. citizen, in Jalisco, Mexico. They married in 1991 and are now living in California. There was no family on hand to help when her first two children of three were born.

“I felt lonely. I thought it was needed for my kids to get to know my parents. It’s kind of hard to grow up and not have [grandparents] around,” she said.

Stanton grew up in a family of 10 that was very close, she said. After she brought her parents over through legal immigration, her children were able to have some of that same family closeness with her parents, she added.

“I wanted them to have what I had when I was a kid. My mom’s cooking. My mom’s arms. My parents were so sweet and I wanted my kids to have that,” Stanton said.

Now she is petitioning for two brothers and a sister to relocate to the U.S., but she said she is nervous after hearing about Trump’s proposed plan to decrease legal immigration here.

Stanton added that the visas now under threat by the president’s policies are crucial to how families are reunited stateside.

“Isn’t that what America is about?” she asked. “First the father and then the mother and then the kids and then the brother. Isn’t America about people immigrating to America?”

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