With headlines dominated right now by immigration negotiations between Congress and the White House, the only sure thing is uncertainty: Anyone who tries to predict the likelihood and scope of a new immigration deal is just guessing. This is as true now as it was five years ago, when I was an Obama White House staffer in the room where comprehensive immigration reform was being negotiated. A sweeping bipartisan deal was struck in the Senate, only to hit a brick wall in the House of Representatives.
This time there may be no immigration deal again, or there may be a narrow deal that focuses exclusively on border security and relief for Dreamers, leaving everything else untouched. But with the White House and its congressional allies escalating their demands for major changes to legal immigration, it’s important to prepare for the possibility that significant changes to the green card sponsorship system will actually be enacted this year, with a disproportionate effect on Asian American communities.
First, a reality check: While the White House has endorsed the idea of cutting the number of family-sponsored green cards in half, and making it impossible to sponsor any family member beyond a spouse or minor child, such drastic changes are almost certainly non-starters. While any negotiation involves posturing on both sides, it’s possible to get a sense of what’s actually on the table by looking at the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform deal from five years ago. In that bill, the annual number of available green cards didn’t change; they just got shifted around. The controversial “diversity visas” and some extended-family visas were reallocated to other priorities.
This time around, the scope of negotiations is even narrower, so we probably won’t see cuts to overall immigration levels, or a wholesale transformation to a “merit-based” immigration system. That said, any new deal will include some winners and losers.
Let’s go through the current categories of family-based immigration one by one, from most to least vulnerable…