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US Lawmakers Revive Bill to Reduce Family-based Immigration Limits

U.S. Representative Mike Honda (D-Calif.), talks about the Reuniting Families Act at a March 17, 2016 news conference on Capitol Hill.

Several Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday reintroduced a bill that would expand immigration eligibility for immediate family members of U.S. citizens and allow same-sex married couples to join spouses in the United States.

Representative Mike Honda (D-Calif.), who sponsored the Reuniting Families Act (RFA), says the immigration reform legislation is designed to cut backlogs that separate some 4.4 million family members from U.S. citizens and green card holders.

"The act will cut red tape and get rid of bureaucracy that results in lost visas and lost opportunities," Rep. Honda announced at a Capitol Hill news conference, explaining that the RFA will utilize thousands of visas that have gone unused over the past two decades.

Bill faces opposition in Congress

The bill is likely to face stiff opposition from lawmakers advocating increased restrictions on U.S. immigration, which has been at top issue in the 2016 presidential race.

According to current U.S. immigration law, immediate family members of U.S. citizens include spouses, unmarried children under 21 years of age and parents 21 years of age or older.

The bill, originally introduced in 2013, classifies the spouse and minor children of green card holders as immediate relatives and separately, increases visa allocations for siblings, and ensures that same-sex, interfaith and other couples unable to wed in their home countries are treated the same as opposite-sex couples.

"If you have more people coming into the category of immediate families, they would automatically be put into the queue for getting the visa actually granted," Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), who supports the bill, told VOA.

Thousands of gay couples could benefit

According to U.S. census reports, as of 2000, an estimated 36,000 same-sex, bi-national couples could benefit from the RFA.

The existing backlog of immigration applications has had an unusually large impact on Asian-American citizens, for whom family reunions represent a primary path to immigration.

Bill supporters, including the Pacific American Labor Alliance, the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, Asians Advancing Justice, Immigration Equality, and the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, say that without reform, it will take the current immigration system nearly 20 years to cycle through the current backlog of unresolved visa applications.

Rep. Honda's office says the RFA is supported by more than 65 legislators in the House.

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Mandarin Service. Correction: An earlier version of this story said language within the reintroduced bill expanded the definition of immediate relatives to include siblings. VOA regrets the error.