Evelyn Santos began her quest for a green card nearly two decades ago, hoping someday she and her family could leave the Philippines and start a better life in the United States.
The opportunity came in 2007, but with a painful caveat: Her two elder sons were now too old to qualify as dependents, so they would have to stay behind.
The mother moved to Northern California with her husband and two younger children, and filed a new round of paperwork hoping to get at least one of her older sons into the country without another decade of waiting.
Immigration attorneys say thousands of immigrants are stuck in a similar situation. In countries such as the Philippines, Mexico and China, relatives of U.S. citizens and residents sometimes wait a decade or two for a family-sponsored green card because of country-based immigration quotas.
Santos is one of several immigrants across the country suing the federal government to try to get their adult children into the country without another lengthy wait.
Under U.S. immigration law, children 21 and older cannot immigrate under their parents’ applications for green cards.
Robert Reeves, an immigration attorney who filed a nationwide class-action lawsuit in federal court in Santa Ana, said he believes 20,000 immigrants living in the United States face similar problems bringing their children here.
The government contends that Congress passed the law to help current U.S. citizens and residents reunite with their families, not to help future immigrants bring their families here.
The plaintiffs argue that the law reads more broadly than that, and should include adult children whose parents had differing forms of sponsorship, including that by siblings.
Immigrant advocates say the government should not require families to wait so long to immigrate together, claiming it discourages legal immigration. Nor should aspiring immigrants be forced to choose between their children and reuniting with their siblings and parents in the United States.
The dilemma has prompted many immigrant parents to urge their adult children to remain single while the lawsuits are pending or until they get green cards. That’s because permanent residents cannot apply for their married children to get green cards and must wait to become U.S. citizens to be able to do so.