Brief: Family Reunification

March 1, 2019

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A Catholic perspective:

Guided by scripture and tradition, we support laws which seek to maintain or restore family unity for immigrants. The Gospel confirms God’s blessing upon families.[1] In imitation of Christ, Texas Catholics have long aided immigrants who are forced by violence or poverty to leave their homes, tending to both their bodily and spiritual needs.[2] For example, two preeminent non-profits, Catholic Charities Rio Grande Valley and Annunciation House in El Paso, facilitated the reunification of separated families in 2018. We are blessed with heroic individuals, families, priests, religious, parishes, and non-profit institutions whose ministry ensures that migrant families are able to find a homeland everywhere in the Catholic Church.[3] We will ensure that the Church remains a comfort for the afflicted, a refuge for the persecuted, and a homeland for the exiled.[4]

[1] Jn. 2:1-11; Lk. 15:11-32; Mk. 5:21–43, Mt. 8:14–17.

[2] USCCB, Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope. § 41; Bishop Mark Seitz, Sorrow and Mourning Flee Away, 4, 12; CMS, Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. Cf. Pope Pius XII, Exul Familia. 15, 20.

[3] USCCB, Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope. § 41; Bishop Mark Seitz, Sorrow and Mourning Flee Away, 4, 12; CMS, Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. Catholic non-profits also provide immigration legal services in every major Texas city, from Houston to El Paso and Amarillo to Brownsville.

[4] Pope Pius XII, Exul Familia. page 12.

Children and families fleeing violence
and seeking safety need mercy and
compassion, not derision and detention.

~ Archbishop Garcia-Siller

Law and Policy:

Family relationships are the primary means by which U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents (LPRs) may obtain permanent residence for their relatives who live in a foreign nation. Family-sponsored immigration is distinguished into two categories: immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and preference categories. The first category offers LPR status to immediate family and parents if the U.S. citizen is over 21 years old.[5]

Described broadly, the second category offers LPR status to family in one of four subcategories:

  1. unmarried children of U.S. citizens who are over 21, and their children;
  2. immediate family of alien residents;
  3. married children of U.S. citizens and their spouses and children; and
  4. siblings of U.S. citizens who are 21 or over and their immediate family.[6]

Family-sponsored immigration is the primary means of legal migration to the U.S. because there is no annual numerical limit on the number of people who may be admitted under this category.[7] Figure 1 (below) illustrates the annual number of new family-sponsored LPRs since 1986; family LPRs represented 66 percent of all new LPRs in 2017.[8] In this way, U.S. law prioritizes the reunification of families.

[5] INA § 201(b)(2)(A); Alienikoff et. al, Immigration and Citizenship. 277-278. For the statutory definition of “child,” see INA § 101(b)(1).

[6] INA §203(a); Alienikoff et. al, Immigration and Citizenship: Process and Policy. 7th Ed. 279.

[7] However, no one may be admitted to the U.S. if they are inadmissible on the basis of health, criminal activity, national security, likelihood of becoming a public charge, lack of applicable labor certification, fraud and misrepresentation, prior removal, or unlawful presence in the U.S. See INA § 212(a); U.S. State Department, 9 Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) 301.4; USCIS Inadmissibility and Waivers.

[8] Department of Homeland Security (DHS), 1990, 2008, and 2017 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics; DHS, Annual Flow Report: Lawful Permanent Residents. (August 2018), 6.


However, families who present claims of asylum at the U.S. border and those who immigrate unlawfully are caught between conflicting federal court rulings and laws.

Court ruling: under the 1999 Flores Settlement Agreement (FSA) between immigrant minors and the federal government, federal agencies are required to release all detained minors promptly unless detention is necessary to secure a minor’s appearance in court or to ensure safety.[9]

Law & agency policy: Federal law generally prohibits the detention of unaccompanied minors and requires the detention of accompanied minors in expedited removal.[10] As such, federal agencies maintain that the FSA should not apply to accompanied minors, which would effectively prolong family detention.[11]

To resolve this difference, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposed new rules in September 2018.[12] If they are implemented, the FSA will terminate, thereby ending the difference between federal court rulings and law.[13] On the topic of family unity, two important provisions from the rules are quoted in Table 1, below. In sum: DHS seeks to lengthen the detention of minors and avoid family reunification outside of detention.[14]

In different ways, national immigration laws and policies both support and subvert family unity. While Texas law cannot improve the most essential causes of this situation, state legislators should be aware of it because of Texas' proximity to the border and because of detention facilities in Karnes and Dilley.

[9] Flores Settlement Agreement (FSA), paragraph 14. However, the FSA does not require the release of parents. Flores v. Lynch 828 F.3d. 20-21 (9th Cir. 2016).

[10] 8 U.S.C. 1225(b)(1)(B)(iii)(IV); 83 Fed. Reg. at 45502; 8 U.S.C. 1232(b)(3); 83 Fed. Reg. at 45490.

[11] 83 Fed. Reg. at 45491, esp. note 4.

[12] 83 Fed. Reg. at 45486 ff.

[13] FSA, paragraphs 9, 40; 83 Fed. Reg. at 45494. cf. 45490, 45491, 45495.

[14] For more information, see TCCB, Comments in Response to Proposed Rulemaking (November 6, 2018). 6-7.

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