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Miriam Yeung's picture

Remember that scene in Back to the Future when Marty McFly discovers that he and his siblings are fading out of a family photograph? That’s the exact feeling I have when I follow the news about immigration policy reform efforts that would eliminate family visas.

First, let’s flash back, like Marty McFly did to the mid-1950s, 1952 to be precise. You might be surprised to learn that it wasn’t until 1952 that the US passed an immigration law that allowed immigrants from Asia to become citizens. That’s right – even though you remember learning about the Chinese workers during the Gold Rush, or the Chinese workers who built the railroads in the 1880s, or the Japanese, Filipino, Korean and Indian farmers who have been part of American history since the earliest days – there was an outright ban on immigration from Asian countries until that ban was lifted in 1952 and a nominal number of new Americans were allowed from Asia. In the early 1960s there were less than one million Asian Americans in the US. The 1965 immigration law, which introduced family based visas was what allowed most of your Asian American neighbors to move to the US. Today, I’m just one Asian American out of close to 18 million. Asian Americans are roughly 6% of the total US population, and migration from Asia has started to outpace migration from Latin America since 2008.

So, now gazing at my family photos, I realize that without family-based visas, me and my brother would not be here today. I was born in Hong Kong. When I was 2 years old, my parents, sponsored by my aunt, made the outrageously courageous and optimistic decision to pick up everything and move to New York City (did I mention we’re talking about New York City in 1977?)  Like the scores of immigrants who moved here, my parents came with the belief that it’s not where you were born or what you look like that makes you American, it’s the values we live by and the care we take for our families and communities that make us a strong country. And my parents especially wanted more opportunities for me as a girl in society. My dad worked in the garment industry as a pattern maker. My mom stayed home to take care of me and my brother until we were done with high school, then she went to school and became a real estate agent so that she could “help others realize the American Dream of owning a home”.

The elimination of family visas for adult married children (or what you’ll read about as category 3 visas) and siblings of citizens (category 4 visas) would fade out Asian American women from the photos of the future. Generally, all women would start to fade. The vast majority of employment-based visas (about 70%) are given out to males. Therefore the majority of immigrant women depend on family visas. Additionally, Asian Americans depend on family visas. In 2012, 86% of visas issued in Asian counties were family-based and 48% of Asian immigrants who gained a green card did so first by arriving on a family visa.  Of the 4.3 million family members waiting abroad to reunite with our families, 1.3 million of those are the family members of Asian Americans. Horrifically, some of our family members from the Philippines, China, India, can suffer “in line” for decades.

So here we are, in the present, engaged in the national debate about immigration policy that is as much about our past as it is about our future. It’s about our values as a nation and whether we will continue live true by them at this moment. As Americans, we honor and celebrate our unique commitment to protecting families and giving equal opportunities and respect to women and girls. Women especially know the importance of coming together and we know we wouldn’t be where we are today without the help and support of the women in our lives. That’s why the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum are co-anchors of the We Belong Together campaign, which brings women together to advocate for common sense immigration policy reform.

And here we are at a critical moment. For Asian American women especially – it’s our Marty McFly moment of action. Now is the time for us to get on our hoverboards to fight for our families just like Marty McFly did. Let’s make sure comprehensive immigration policy reforms work for women. Please sign on to our We Belong Together campaign today.

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