Friday, February 21, 2014

A Personal Plea to Retain the Sibling Category

Guest blogger: Aleen Koumriqian, second-year law student, University of San Francisco:

My family and I were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to immigrate to the United States from Iraq in 1995 via the sibling category.  Given common attacks on this category, include S. 744 passed by the Senate last Spring, I would like to briefly summarizes my family’s unique immigration story as it relates to the sibling category.  I will also highlight my family’s accomplishments, something that is often ignored by the public and policy makers.

My great-grandparents were survivors of the Armenian Genocide, which occurred in 1915. They were marched out of Armenia by the Ottoman Turks who eventually massacred 1.5 million Armenians. My great-grandparents were fortunate enough to survive this and they moved into Baghdad, Iraq thinking they were escaping persecution. We lived a very comfortable life until the authoritative Hussein regime took over; everything drastically changed. Slowly, we began to live very oppressive and fearful lives and we dreamt of leaving.

My father’s brother was the first from our family to move to the United States.  After my uncle became a U.S. citizen he petitioned for my family in 1982 under the sibling category.  My uncle petitioned for my father as the principal beneficiary; my mom, my sisters and I became derivative beneficiaries under what is now the fourth preference of the family-sponsored visas.  This process was known to take about 7-8 years for those immigrating from Iraq. However, this was not the case for my family. The Iraq-Iran War had just ended, but then Operation Desert Storm followed, which delayed the process. We feared for our lives, not knowing if we would survive any given day. Unfortunately, because of the backlog, my family was not granted visas for 13 years.  Finally, in 1995 our priority date appeared on the Visa Bulletin and my family packed our bags to leave for the United States.

My family has added much to our community here in the United States.  We have not only contributed economically, but also socially.  My father began working since the day we came to the United States.  Beginning at a minimum wage paying job, my father slowly worked his way up to became a manager of a printing company.  He eventually began investing in different businesses, including a laundry cleaning business and an auto body and mechanic shop.  These businesses continue to prosper today.

My mother also began working to support our family from the start. She began working for minimum wage at a beauty supply store.  She eventually worked as a receptionist for many years at a semiconductor company and retired two years ago.  However even when she worked, my mother was always very involved in making sure that my sisters and I received the appropriate help in order to do well in school.  Because my mother’s English was not strong, she always made sure to find resources that would help my sisters and me.

After being in the United States for about five years, my parents saved enough money to purchase a condominium in San Jose, California.  This was a huge accomplishment for them because they finally felt as though they were attaining the “American Dream.”  Eventually, they sold the condominium and bought their first residential home; a home with a mini van parked in front, a dream that my father always had.

My older sister graduated with her bachelor’s degree in human resource from San Jose State University.  She now is a senior human resource generalist for a company in the Silicon Valley.

My younger sister graduated with honors from UCLA. She received a bachelor’s degree in political science and a minor in civic engagement. She is now a second year law student at Santa Clara University.

I graduated from UCLA with honors and received a bachelor’s degree in political science and a minor in civic engagement.  I am now a second year law student at the University of San Francisco School of Law.
To this day, I remain extremely grateful for the opportunity to move to the United States. If it were not for the sibling category, I do not know how or when my family would have moved to the United States. My parents left everything behind for my sisters and me so that we could have a bright future; that was not available for us in Baghdad. Had we not moved to the United States, I do not know if my family and I would have made it out of Baghdad alive. I would not be pursuing higher education or have any of the other opportunities that I have been given.

When I began reading Senate Bill S.744, my heart dropped learning about the changes to the family category. Senate Bill S.744 has proposed, among many things, to eliminate the fourth preference sibling category.  The section regarding the sibling category reads:

 “There will no longer be an immigrant category for siblings of U.S. citizens, and visas will no longer be available to married sons or daughters of U.S. citizens who are over 31 years of age. These relatives would have to apply under the new point system or find another avenue in order to immigrate.

The wording of the proposal alone suggests that the Senate does not take into consideration those who will be negatively impacted by such a harsh change.  The prospective immigrants will have the option of either applying under the suggested new point system, which disadvantages women, or they simply need to find another avenue to immigrate. But what if another option is not available? If anything, this may foster more undocumented immigration, a problem that the United States has been attempting to combat for years.  If the category is to be eliminated, then people just like my family would not get the chance to come to the United States.  Getting to the United States was already a battle for my family because we had to wait for so long in such an oppressive country.  To think that we may have been forced to remain in Iraq and live through another war is extremely disheartening.  


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