Immigrants tell stories of broken families to pressure senators on immigration reform

Immigrants tell stories of broken families to pressure senators on immigration reform
Kristina Tendilla stands in front of a banner before being arrested during a civil disobedience. Photo by Lucio Villa.

Kristina Tendilla’s father served in the U. S. Navy while still living in the Phillipines, and when he came to the United States in the late 1970s, he became an American citizen. He had three siblings, and as soon as he was granted citizenship, he petitioned for them to leave the poverty of their upbringing and come live with him.

But it wasn’t to be.

“He waited for his siblings for over 20 years,” said Tendilla, a community organizer with the Alliance of Filipinos for Immigrant Rights and Empowerment, “only to have two of them die at the end of their petition.”

Alie Kabba

Alie Kabba of the United African Organization calls on Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin to “fight like a
tiger” for immigrants and their families. Photo by Lucio Villa. 

Tendilla was one of 14 of community activists affected by the immigration system who, along with Aldermen Danny Solis and Proco Joe Moreno, took part in a civil disobedience in front of the federal building on March 22.

Their protests had two aims: push the “Gang of Eight”--U.S. senators tasked with putting forward an immigration blueprint to move on immigration reform, and prevent the family and diversity visas from being eliminated in the process.

Family visas allow American citizens and green-card holders to apply for their relatives to live in the United States, while diversity visas make a certain number of visas available through a lottery program for countries with low immigration to the United States.


Protesters hold immigration applications and state IDs during the rally. Photo by Lucio Villa.

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of the Gang of Eight, told The Washington Post that a limiting of family visas is likely.

He said:

Right now you get green cards to adult children, to grandparents. What I want to do is reserve green cards based on the economic needs of the country, and we’ll do something for families. But the goal for me is to replace a chained migration immigration system with an economic-based immigration system.

In response to queries about the limiting of family visas, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin’s press office told The Chicago Reporter that, “Senator Durbin believes families should not be torn apart by deportations and that any comprehensive immigration reform measure must include a pathway to citizenship for all 11 million undocumented immigrants and the DREAM Act.”

Advocates as well as the Congressional Asian Pacific American caucus sent letters to the Gang of Eight about the importance of the category.

The processing of family visa can take years. According to the Migration Policy Institute, immigrants from the Phillipines wait, on average, more than 20 years to be reunited with their family members--but Tendilla worries of the harsher effects if the visa category is removed altogether.

Her family’s circumstances “emotionally crippled my father and millions of other immigrant families,” she said. “We need an immigration system that is inclusive, fair and keeps families together.”


More than 50 protesters lined the streets during the civil disobedience. Photo by Lucio Villa.

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