You have asked us to testify on recent projections for the levels of legal immigration in the next several years. The revised projections that were announced by the INS a few weeks ago are consistent with the basic calculations that this Commission used in making our recommendations on the priorities for legal immigration in June of last year. In a moment, our Executive Director, Susan Martin, will explain the details of the informal projections on which the Commission based our discussions, with particular emphasis on the backlogs for spouses and minor children of legal permanent residents and for the brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens.
The important question to ask about these projections for future immigration is: Do they show that we are delivering on our priorities for legal immigration?
There are two points to be made about the subject of priorities.
First, it is clearly in the national interest--as a matter of priority--to re-unify nuclear families in their new homes in this country as quickly as possible. It is clearly not in the national interest to keep immigrants in the United States separated from their spouses and minor children. You will hear from Susan Martin's testimony that, without the legal immigration reforms recommended by the Commission, the separation of nuclear families will become a lasting feature of U.S. immigration policy.
Second, as long as our system for legal immigration fails to recognize human nature--that the relationship between spouses and minor children is felt to be closer, and more important, than the relationship between more extended family members--we will encourage illegal immigration.
Indeed, many of the opponents of legal immigration reform in both the House and Senate argued that most of these spouses and minor children are already in the United States. That is true. Some are here illegally. They could have remained separated from husbands, wives, and small children outside the U.S. That would have complied with the law, but it also would have defied human realities. They chose to disobey the law to keep their immediate families together.
Moreover, we should not ignore the rest of the problem. There are more than 300,000 spouses and young children separated by U.S. law, a number that will increase substantially over the next several years unless we take action. They obey the law and so cannot enter the United States as a whole family. Those who are from countries such as India, Korea, and Taiwan cannot even obtain a visitor's visa because of their pending application as immigrants. I hope that this Committee will meet with members of the organization called Professionals for Spousal Reunification. This Commission did, and heard from them about the lengthy separations of husbands and wives living abroad that are imposed by this failure to implement priorities in U.S. law, a failure that serves no national interest whatsoever.
None of this is to say that brothers and sisters and their spouses and children or adult children, whether married or unmarried, are not part of the family. Nor do we say that they are not capable of making important contributions to the U.S. as immigrants. But this is a question of priorities. It is more a question of priorities than of numbers.
As my colleague Michael Teitelbaum just said, the Commission recommended that legal immigration at a level of about 700,000 over the next five to eight years is in the national interest, as long as priorities are established and implemented. The one dissenter to our Commission consensus argued that we could accomplish these goals at current levels or by increasing levels of legal immigration, provided that the siblings and adult children wait longer. But the Commission disagreed by a vote of eight to one.
So as you debate the impact of higher levels of legal immigration, please bear in mind the Commission's view that the critical question is: What are our priorities for legal immigration? It is our view as a Commission that those priorities should dictate the numbers to a considerable extent.