Legomsky Testifies at Congressional Immigration Hearing

Stephen H. LegomskyProfessor Stephen Legomsky spoke about a range of immigration issues at a congressional hearing titled “Shortfalls of the 1986 Immigration Reform Legislation.” [Read testimony]

An expert on immigration law and policy, Legomsky, the John S. Lehmann University Professor, testified on April 19 before the United States House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law. The subcommittee falls under the Committee on the Judiciary. Legomsky submitted written testimony and gave a five-minute oral summary.

In my view, the single largest gap in both the 1986 law and subsequent legislation has been the failure to update the criteria for legal immigration,” he observed. “Families need to be reunited, and employers need practical ways to fill their labor requirements. Until those goals can be achieved through legal mechanisms, violation of the law will continue to be the route that many choose.”

Legomsky’s written testimony first offered some refinements to current proposals concerning the legalization of undocumented immigrants and sanctions on employers of unauthorized workers. But he devoted most of his written testimony and the entirety of his oral testimony to an issue that is dear to his heart.

There are about 12 million lawful permanent residents – so-called “green card” holders – in the United States.  If you are one of them, Legomsky told the subcommittee, “and you marry or have a child, your new spouse or your newborn child will have to wait more than 5 years to join you – more than 6 years if your spouse or child is Mexican. That’s because the current statute caps the number who may be admitted annually.”

These long waiting periods have caused huge problems, he testified. “Husbands and wives are separated for the first 5 or 6 years of their marriages, and newborn children are separated from one or both of their parents for the first 5 or 6 years of the child’s life.  If we’re going to talk about family values, then this is a problem we have to fix.

“Humanitarian concerns aside,” he added, “these long separations practically beg people to violate the immigration laws.  Human nature will have to be remade before new spouses willingly separate for the first five or six years of their marriages or new parents willingly separate from their newborn children for the first five or six years of the child’s life.”  The solution, Legomsky suggested, is to exempt the spouses and children of lawful permanent residents from the annual numerical caps.

Legomsky’s oral testimony was followed by an hour of questions from subcommittee members.  He observed, “It was a vigorous and productive discussion, with passionate and diverse viewpoints expressed by the subcommittee members.” 

What has moved him the most, he said, is the subsequent e-mails from immigrants who read his testimony, relating the sadness they are experiencing at being separated from their families and thanking him for taking up their cause.