Seung Wong has lived in the United States for 14 years, seven of which she has been undocumented. Her family came from Korea, without knowing that this would be a place they would now permanently call home. She grew up visiting her grandparents, watching them raise chickens and farming in the countryside of Korea. Managing the cold winter season, with little to do but enjoy the rural lifestyle and be amongst family.
For 14 years, she and her parents have yet to visit her home country and have not physically seen her beloved grandparents. This is not by choice. What separates them is not simply a 14-hour, non-stop flight from Korea, but rather an immigration system designed to keep people apart.
This is not new. It’s a normalized form of family separation that has plagued the US immigration system.
While many changes in policy have helped to address these systems by implementing family reunification policies and diversity visas, the reality is that an immigrant family kept from loved ones around the globe for decades is too common of a story to make the news.
For many of us, families that haven’t seen or embraced each other for decades is not new; this is one of multiple threats to the social fabric of our community that must be rejected.
In this political moment we are witness to intensified scrutiny and attacks on immigrants. From ICE raids and indefinite detention, to children or entire families being caged, kidnapped or turned away at the border when seeking asylum, this political juncture and administration has exposed some of the most vile aspects of immigration enforcement. And while rhetoric continues to escalate, there is an ongoing and sinister plan to continue chipping away at an already embattled family immigration system.
“Points Based Visas” also called merit-based or wealth visas are part of the far-right’s hidden agenda. This effort is not yet fully discussed in the mainstream immigrant rights discourse; however, there are groups of academics, officials from the Trump administration, and other political appointees that are working to pave the way for this type of malicious program that would restrict migration and be disastrous to working class immigrant families.
The Trump Administration is attempting to gut our family immigration system in lieu of a points based system that only favors certain individuals. It’s a continuation of a broader strategy to undermine immigrant families and reinforce a dangerous notion that immigrants have to “earn” their place in society, rather than be respected and treated with dignity inherently.
A shift to points (or merit) based visas would only make it harder for Seung Wong’s family to be reunited. It’s a program that disguises itself with metric’s that pre-determine how worthy an individual is of migration or of seeking refuge in the US.
Similar to recent actions by Acting Director Kenneth T. Cuccinelli, a hardline anti-immigrant extremist, who defended the implementation of wealth tests and worked diligently to change the words of Emma Lazarus’ poem to read: “Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.”
Points based systems are in line with the most ardent anti-immigrant extremists. While the Trump administration’s framing that merit-based visas will somehow protect the American economy from immigrants, the reality is as Wong argued with facts about education rates and economic growth, immigrants actually bolster our economy.
Cutting down on an immigrant workforce would harm the US economy. The truth is that immigrants are being scapegoated, exploited, and violently discriminated against. The Trump administration’s efforts are simply veiled classism and racism to bolster their white-nationalist base.
A points-based system would do nothing but weaken the last fifty years of progress to uplift the humanity and dignity of immigrants across the country. A points-based Visa proposal would not only push our Immigrant Rights Movement back, it would set the stage for an internal dismantling of the few protections we still have left.
Our work is cut out for us: attorneys, advocates, and community members are resisting and working harder than ever before.
Armando Carmona is a partner at Tzunu Strategies and consultant with Value Our Families. The Value Our Families campaign is a coalition of 33 immigrant rights groups committed to building support for an immigration system that protects and promotes family unity and contributes to the American social and economic fabric.