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How Families Are Kept Apart by Current Immigration Laws

Family reunification has stood as a central pillar of the U.S. immigration system, dating back to 1965. Despite this, a new study by researchers Cecilia Menjivar and Maria Enchautegui shows that current immigration laws actually work to keep many families apart. Not surprisingly, the authors’ analysis reveals that immigrant households have a “high incidence of persons married with spouses absent, a high share of male-headed households, and high proportions of children not living with their parents or separated from the parents.”

In principle, our immigration law recognizes the right of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents to be reunited with close family members born abroad. By doing so, the law embraces the value of family life as a “matter of personal intimacy as much as physical support, of giving and receiving ‘care’ in the broadest sense.” However, a closer look at the actual impact of current immigration laws on families reveals that family reunification is threatened by various legal provisions, some of which reflect competing principles.

Specifically, the authors found that the following provisions sometimes frustrate the goal of family reunification:

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