On Tuesday, Reps. Veronica Escobar (D-El Paso) and Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) spoke at a virtual event in support of HR 2920, also known as the American Families United Act (AFUA). The bill aims to keep families united in cases where some members are U.S. citizens and others are not.
The event was hosted by American Families United, an organization that helps American citizens married to foreign nationals. It was originally planned to be a rally at the Capitol Reflecting Pool but had to be moved online due to poor weather.
The AFUA would provide the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice with the discretion to stop deportations of foreign nationals who are the spouse or the parent of a U.S. citizen. The bill would not provide blanket protection for mixed-status families but would rather give DHS and DOJ discretion that can be exercised on a case-by-case basis.
Several people who have been separated from their loved ones by the immigration system spoke at the event. “My son and I are US citizens, but we are not allowed to live with my wife Cecilia,” said Jason Rochester, a UPS driver from Atlanta. Rochester’s son was diagnosed with cancer shortly after his wife left the country, and she has not been able to return since then.
More than 1.3 million spouses of U.S. citizens live in the United States without authorization, and more than 4 million U.S. citizen children have at least one undocumented parent.
“These families are separated by laws that can and should change,” said Escobar, who introduced the most recent iteration of the AFUA. “I am determined to get this done,”
The previous version of the bill was sponsored by Escobar’s predecessor, Beto O’Rourke, in 2013.
“There used to be a time when saying America was about family values actually meant something,” said Garcia, who was one of more than 40 co-sponsors. “It was a value of this country to keep families together.” Garcia also noted that it was important to ensure that no one is left behind in the Biden administration’s Build Back Better agenda.
While the bill has bipartisan support in the House, passing it in the Senate will be a tougher challenge in the senate. Escobar said that their first choice was to pass it through the reconciliation process, which allows legislation to advance without the need for 60 votes to overcome the filibuster. Democrats are currently trying to pass immigration reform through a sweeping reconciliation bill that includes a number of their social spending priorities.
Unfortunately, including the AFUA or any immigration reform in reconciliation is a difficult prospect due to arcane Senate rules. When asked about the possibility of passing the AFUA by getting the ten Republican votes needed to overcome the filibuster, Escobar said she was “hopeful” since the bill has bipartisan support in the House. “This is a common-sense bill, we’re not asking for broad blanket provisions, just judicial discretion.”