Left Behind: The Dying Principle of Family Reunification Under Immigration Law

A key underpinning of modern U.S. immigration law is family reunification, but in practice it can privilege certain families and certain members within families. Drawing on legislative history, this Article examines the origins and objectives of the principle of family reunification in immigration law and relies on legal scholarship and sociological and anthropological research to reveal how contemporary immigration law and policy has diluted the principle for many families—particularly those who do not fit the dominant nuclear family model, those classified as unskilled, and families from oversubscribed countries—and members within families. It explores the ways in which women and children, integral members of a family, are often placed in dependent roles. From this perspective, it suggests that the much-discussed increase of unaccompanied minors and women with children crossing the Southern border has been exacerbated by immigration laws, enforcement, and policy which have confined them to dependent roles, directly affecting family integrity. The failure of immigration law and policy to recognize the social agency of women and children can fracture family integrity when a woman, particularly one who is classified as “unskilled,” or a child heads the migration for a family unit.