Immigration Small Ball – The Liberal Patriot

Cuban Adolis Garcia of the Texas Rangers

The Temporary Family Visitation Act may be incremental immigration reform, but it would be a grand slam for foreign-born MLB players.

Jordan Heller | November 1, 2023

Read the Original Article on The Liberal Patriot here

In this year’s World Series between the Texas Rangers and Arizona Diamondbacks, eight key players are representing their home countries of Cuba, Venezuela, and the Dominican Republic. Four of those players will emerge victorious. Their natural-born American teammates will be surrounded by family, exulting in their loved ones’ success. But for these international players, victory won’t be as sweet.

Jose Alvarado, the hard-throwing left-handed relief pitcher of the Philadelphia Phillies, who made it to the World Series last year, explained why last month.

“It’s so hard, man,” an emotional Alvarado told reporters after he helped his team win the first game of the National League Wildcard Series. “After the game, I went home and my mom called me [from Venezuela]. She was crying because she missed the World Series last year. This year, I tried to bring her to the United States and the United States wouldn’t give her a visa.”

With nearly 30 percent of MLB players foreign-born, Alvarado is one of many who, despite their resources and importance in American culture, are unable to share their achievement with family. Right now, when a foreign national from a country for which the U.S. offers no visa waiver wishes to visit a U.S.-based relative, they must apply for a tourist visa. It can take years just to meet with a U.S. consular officer for action on an application, which oftentimes results in a denial. Paris Etamadi Scott, an immigration lawyer based in San Jose, California, told me that such consular rejections are “routine” for the many Persian-speaking immigrants she represents. She described for me a catch-22 in which strong family ties in the U.S. give an individual a valid reason to visit while those same family ties give a U.S. consular officer a reason to suspect the applicant intends to immigrate.

“This has been tearing Iranian families apart pretty much since the 1979 Iranian Revolution,” Scott told me. The same can be said for the many Dominican, Cuban, and Venezuelan families with relatives playing Major League Baseball.

But there’s hope for these families: the Temporary Family Visitation Act (TFVA), a tightly-focused bipartisan bill that would establish a new visa for U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents to welcome loved ones from abroad.

Many of the above-mentioned tourist visa rejections fall under Section 214(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, whereby applicants with family ties in the U.S. are presumed to have intentions to immigrate unless they can prove otherwise. Proving your state of mind to a U.S. consular officer can be a heavy lift.

Instead, the TFVA would provide practical safeguards against visa overstays. During the course of their visit, which under the proposed visa would not exceed 90 days, the traveler would be prohibited from attempting to change their visa status. Also, responsibility for compliance would be shared by the relative based in the U.S., who must petition on behalf of the visa applicant. The U.S.-based petitioner would be required to sign an affidavit claiming financial responsibility for the applicant until they leave the U.S., and if an applicant overstays their visa, the petitioner would be forever barred from the program.

Beyond the moral imperative of allowing families to reunite with loved ones, the new visa would prove a boon to the U.S. economy. According to the U.S. Travel Association, each overseas traveler visiting the U.S. spends $5,000 on average during the course of a stay. With more than 1 million people expected to take advantage of the TFVA annually, that’s more than $5 billion a year in additional travel spending, which economists say would lead to the creation of thousands of jobs.

Passage of a targeted bill like the TFVA could also point the way toward piecemeal reformation of our sprawling and deeply flawed immigration system. Casey Higgins, who served as senior policy advisor to former House Speaker Paul Ryan, argued as much to a December 2022 immigration policy conference:

[With comprehensive immigration reform] every [House] member has a reason to vote no instead of every member having a reason to vote yes, and it has collapsed under its own weight…Instead, take steps in the right direction to do confidence building measures that show that we are not completely inept, that we can do this without the political ramifications burning the place down. We can build the confidence to do more, and more, and more.

I’ve heard this argument from many congressional experts, including lawmakers. Perhaps Dip Patel, who founded the nonprofit organization Improve the Dream to advocate for Documented Dreamers, sums it up best:

Over the last 20 years, imagine if every year we were able to get a narrow improvement in the immigration system. That, essentially, by now, would’ve taken care of most of what we want in comprehensive reform.

The plight of a few baseball players may seem small set beside these other concerns, but here, too, there is much to gain in passing the TFVA. After all, it’s not just the world’s best baseball players who come to the United States; America also attracts the world’s best innovators in medicine, science, and technology. It’s part of what has made this country great.

Regardless of who wins the World Series, there will likely be a post-game interview with one of its Dominican, Cuban, or Venezuelan stars, heartbroken that he couldn’t share the experience with the family he left behind. Other elites in their respective fields who live in India, China, and across Latin America, may be watching and will certainly empathize with the ballplayer’s distress. They, too, may be considering bringing their talents to the U.S. and decide not to come here at all.

But that’s something we can easily remedy.

In Order to Make it Back to the House of Representatives, this Immigration Bill had to Overcome an Unlikely Obstacle: The State Department – Ideaspace

Stamping a Passport

Jordan Heller | October 23, 2023

Read the original article from Ideaspace

Last month, a bipartisan group of U.S. House members reintroduced the Temporary Family Visitation Act (TFVA), a bill that would create a new nonimmigrant visa for foreign nationals who wish to visit family members in the U.S. As Ideaspace first reported in June of 2022, the bill would address a catch-22 in which foreign nationals with a legitimate reason to visit the U.S. — to connect with relatives who are U.S. citizens OR LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENTS — are routinely denied a tourist visa precisely because of those family ties.

Paris Etemadi Scott, an immigration attorney based in San Jose, California, told Ideaspace that the predicament is commonplace among the many Persian-speaking immigrants she serves. When an applicant for a tourist visa has family ties in the U.S., she explained, a U.S. consular officer will oftentimes reject the application on the basis that because of those family ties the applicant intends to immigrate. Congress itself detailed the issue in a 2014 CRS report.

“And for these families, when that tourist visa gets denied, they have no other option but to apply for that rigorous immigrant visa,” said Scott, explaining how the government is inadvertently driving up Green Card applications by individuals who have no intention to immigrate.  

The TFVA was originally introduced in the House of Representatives in May of 2021, and ultimately garnered 31 House Democrats and 18 House Republicans as co-sponsors — broad bipartisan support by any measure. But the bill floundered in the waning days of the 117th Congress after the House Judiciary Committee asked the State Department — the agency that would be tasked with issuing the new visas — for technical assistance. Among other concerns, State objected on the grounds that the new law would compromise the discretion of U.S. consular officers. Furthermore, State claimed there was no need for the bill as the tourist visas were meeting demand. Fearing the prospects for the bill would be dim without State’s support, TFVA authors did not feel confident advancing the bill out of the Judiciary Committee. 

It’s a situation that frustrated supporters of the TFVA, as unelected government officials were effectively obstructing the legislative process. 

“I’m not sure the State Department sees it the same way as our citizens do,” said Rep. Scott Peters, a Democrat from southern California who reintroduced the TFVA with Republican congresswomen Stephanie Bice and María Salazar. “People can’t get the ability to visit family because they’re denied a visa. And parents should be able to attend their kids’ weddings, and children should be able to attend their parents’ funerals. And I would just say to the State Department, that’s not happening right now. And they may think that that’s fine, but I think a lot of us in a very bipartisan way don’t believe that that’s fine.

“And as far as [State’s] discretion,” continued Rep. Peters. “I guess that it’s the Congress that sets these priorities in conjunction with the president.”

John-Mark Kolb, the deputy chief of staff to Rep. Salazar, one of the two Republican congresswomen who reintroduced the TFVA with Rep. Peters, also disputed State’s position on the bill.

“Our constituents are pissed,” said Kolb, whose boss’s congressional district covers much of Miami-Dade County in South Florida, home to a large immigrant population with roots in Latin America. “We have one constituent with a family member in Bogotá, Colombia. Last time I checked, the wait to get an appointment just to see if you qualify for a visitor visa was over two and a half years. And then if the consular officer says, ‘No. Denied,’ then you’re saying you have to go through that process again? It’s absurd.”

Kolb went on to explain how the COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated the problem. With consular offices shut down due to pandemic protocols and no online processing put into place, the backlog grew to historic proportions.

“If [State] is going to tell people to work from home, you need to figure out a process to do this [online],” said Kolb, whose office introduced a separate bill to address the extended wait times. Kolb said that on this issue, too, State denied the existence of a problem. “And then when Congress has to step in and say, ‘Okay, we’re going to fix this,’ don’t tell me there’s not a problem.”   

Nevertheless, after the conclusion of the 117th Congress, TFVA authors set about addressing the State Department’s concerns. If for nothing else, so that if and when the bill reaches the White House, the president can push aside any remaining concerns of the State Department. 

Regarding the claim that tourist visas are meeting demand, lawmakers added an amendment to the FY24 State, Operations Appropriations Bill requiring the State Department to audit its rejections of nonimmigrant visa applications based on the presumption that those applicants intended to immigrate, which falls under Section 214(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Currently, records do not show the reason a consular officer invoked Section 214(b). TFVA supporters expect the audit will show that a significant number of those 214(b) rejections were based on applicants’ family ties to the U.S. In addition to neutralizing State’s claim that tourist visas are meeting demand, TFVA supporters believe that such an audit will help garner more congressional support for the bill. 

TFVA authors also added revisions to the bill itself, including language that would require petitioners to state that a family member wishing to visit the U.S. had not previously overstayed a visa, and, most importantly, language meant to retain the discretion of consular officers. If an applicant meets all requirements needed to avoid a  214(b) rejection, a consular officer will have other grounds for denial, like national security concerns.

Despite their frustrations with State, both Rep. Peters and Deputy Chief of Staff Kolb are ultimately happy that State had the opportunity to offer input on the latest iteration of the bill.    

“Agencies have the right to give their opinions on legislation when asked,” said Kolb. “And I know [that State] made technical changes to the bill to make it better. Writing bills can be hard sometimes, and there’s little lines that you can tweak and things that members of Congress don’t see on the front end, and that’s part of the legislative process. So they did provide valuable feedback on actually, if this bill becomes law, changing this word here would make it better.”

Said Rep. Peters: “At the end of the day, it’s the State Department that’s going to be implementing the law. And so it’s good to have them on board and ready to be able to successfully implement it, if those laws are going to make a difference.”

With the State Department’s concerns addressed and the bill reintroduced in the House, now the challenge for the TFVA is navigating the 118th Congress. The Republican conference’s failure to unite behind a speaker shows that the House remains in thrall to some of the GOP’s most extremist, anti-immigration elements, so getting the TFVA to a vote on the House floor would seem an uphill climb. But some in Congress, including Rep. Peters, see an impasse on comprehensive immigration reform as an opening for smaller, more niche pieces of legislation like the TFVA.

As Rep. Peters told me in a previous article about the prospects for immigration reform in the 118th Congress, many members often refrain from spending their political capital on narrow reforms like the TFVA, out of fear that such votes will weaken their leverage for passing bigger priorities like the DREAM Act. “But it’s been pretty clear over the last 10 years that comprehensive immigration reform is maybe an elephant that has to be eaten one bite at a time,” said the congressman. “So, for me, I’m willing to take smaller bites.”

As the thinking goes, with comprehensive immigration reform being a non-starter in the 118th Congress, there’s plenty of appetite for reforming the immigration system piecemeal. Furthermore, smaller bills like the TFVA do not generate the same political heat as comprehensive reforms. 

“A lot of this [small] stuff goes under the radar,” said Rep. Peters.

Beyond the smallness of the TFVA, Kolb believes the bill has qualities that are uniquely attractive to Republican House members. Namely, its focus on family, economics, and security.

“Republicans believe in family values,” said Kolb. “But we also have security to think about. And this bill helps bridge that gap and allow families to see their loved ones, but in a way that protects the integrity of our immigration system because these are temporary visas. And there are safeguards put in place to protect against visa overstays. 

“Of course on the economic side, the U.S. brings a lot of tourists every year,” said Kolb. “But we have room to grow on tourism and this [bill would help that growth].

According to the U.S. Travel Association, each overseas traveler visiting the U.S. spends on average $5,000 during the course of a stay. With more than 1 million people expected to take advantage of the TFVA annually, that’s more than $5 billion a year in additional travel spending, which economists say would lead to the creation of tens of thousands of jobs.

But above all, Kolb believes the TFVA is unique because it doesn’t fall along the traditional dividing lines of immigration.

“Immigration is a very political topic,” said Kolb. “But this one is a simple, targeted, effective fix to a real problem that constituents are experiencing. So I think [passage is] more down to member interest, down to districts who maybe have more American citizens with families abroad and/or live in areas where tourism is bigger. At the end of the day, this bill is just the right thing to do.”

Making American visits and vacations possible for all travelers and families – San Jose Spotlight

Mineta San Jose International Airport

By Elham Sadri | June 21, 2022

Read the original article here.

When President Joe Biden repealed the Muslim travel ban in 2021, the Persian community rejoiced. Our family members abroad could finally visit loved ones in America. After years of separation, mothers, sons and grandparents looked forward to reuniting and hugging each other at long last.

But there was a catch. If you live in 155 countries, including my native Iran, you need a tourist visa to come to the U.S. These can take months to procure, and applications are denied at high rates, according to the government. For example, the denial rate for Iran was over 85% in 2020. That’s because the United States is incredibly picky about who it lets into the country—especially long term. So even if you simply want to come here for a few weeks or months, the U.S. government might claim you are trying to immigrate permanently.

This puts families in a terrible position. It means residents of dozens of countries are restricted from visiting their family members in America for weddings, birthdays and graduations. Events that come up on short notice—like funerals and births—are even harder to get to.

Thankfully, a piece of bipartisan legislation could help: the Temporary Family Visitation Act would establish a new nonimmigrant category—the B-3 visa—allowing U.S. citizens and green card holders to bring their families here for up to 90 days. It has accountability measures built in, requiring each applicant to sign an affidavit of financial support and purchase travel medical insurance for their loved one.

This bill recognizes how vital family connections are to a person’s overall wellbeing. It’s something we all understand, especially after pandemic quarantines.

Today, every American knows how painful it feels to be separated from family and friends who are sick or dying. We know the sadness of having to meet a new baby or attend a wedding through a screen. It’s why this new proposal was co-authored by a strong, bipartisan team: Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Rand Paul (R-KY) and Representatives Scott Peters (D-CA-52), María Elvira Salazar (R-FL-27), Stephanie Bice (R-OK-05) and Jim Himes (D-CT-04). The Temporary Family Visitation Act isn’t an immigration bill, it’s a human bill.

There are other reasons this bill is a good idea. Currently, anyone who manages to get a green card through family could potentially apply for a single-entry tourist B1/B2 visa. Many people submit such an application so they can visit again in the future without the bureaucratic hassle of applying for another single-entry tourist visa. But there is currently a massive backlog for family-based visas. Millions are waiting “in line,” and some have been waiting as far back as 2001. Every temporary visitor who applies for permanent residency just because they can hurts those who truly need that status.

As a native-born Iranian and the founder of a San Jose-based immigration law firm, I see these situations every day. My clients who are facing serious medical issues can’t wait months or years for their family members to get visa approval. In fact, my own beloved parents in Tehran can’t come to visit without suffering through an elongated, difficult process.

It’s also personal for my family. When I finished law school 10 years ago, my parents couldn’t attend my graduation. Over the last decade, they’ve been able to visit me just once, in 2015. From start to finish, the tourist visa process took more than a year: filing the application, getting an interview, doing an administrative background check and finally getting to the U.S. It was so overwhelming and stressful that they didn’t want to repeat the experience.

My youngest sister, who came to the U.S. to get her PhD in biomedical engineering in 2017, hasn’t seen our parents in five years. That’s because the nonimmigrant visa for international students is single entry, like 90% of other Iranian PhD students in the U.S. She has not been able to travel back to Iran to visit family even during summer vacation, Christmas and the New Year when everyone spends time with their family. Both of our grandmothers passed away over the last couple of years, and she was not able to go to Iran to grieve with our family.

The situation is especially frustrating because citizens of 38 countries, largely across the European Union, can bypass the tourist visa process altogether. They’re eligible for a visa waiver, meaning they simply complete an online form and hop on an airplane.

Finally, the Temporary Family Visitation Act would benefit the U.S. tourism industry—something we also need in the wake of COVID-19 shutdowns. The U.S. Travel Association estimates that every overseas traveler who visits the United States spends about $4,200 over the course of an 18-night stay. The same organization estimated that, in 2019, international travel indirectly supported 1.2 million U.S. jobs and $33.7 billion in wages annually.

Tourism jobs and the 2.2 million additional jobs in other sectors such as construction, accounting and marketing would be positively affected. It’s good for the economy when visitors stay in our hotels, eat in our restaurants and visit our museums and other attractions.

The Temporary Family Visitation Act isn’t perfect; a visa that is good for six months instead of three would be more useful. But I’m still pleased lawmakers across the aisle recognize the importance of familial bonds—whether it’s a new mother who needs the support of her mom or a dying sibling who craves his brother’s smile. We are already separated by thousands of miles. Government bureaucracy shouldn’t make the distance worse.

Elham Sadri is the founder of Sadri Law, a law firm specializing in immigration issues in San Jose. She’s also chair of the Santa Clara Valley chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and co-founder of the Iranian Lawyers in North America group.