De Leon: In Shadow of Debt Ceiling Debate, A Positive Immigration Bill Passes the House

 U.S. Navy Sailors with ties to the Filipino community welcome the Philippine navy frigate BRP Gregorio del Pilar

U.S. Navy Sailors with ties to the Filipino community welcome the Philippine navy frigate BRP Gregorio del Pilar. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Most of us were so riveted to or repelled by the debt ceiling circus that we missed the passage of a truly bipartisan bill. The House of Representatives on Monday debated and approved H.R. 398 by a 426-0 vote.

H.R. 398 seeks “to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to toll, during active-duty service abroad in the Armed Forces, the periods of time to file a petition and appear for an interview to remove the conditional basis for permanent resident status, and for other purposes.”

In other words, the statute would make it easier for married binational straight couples by giving foreign-born spouses with conditional green cards and their U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouses more time to petition for the removal of the conditional status. The amendment introduced by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) would apply to couples in which either spouse is an active member of the U.S. Armed Forces serving abroad.

This statute would be a welcome relief for immigrant families in the military.

The Migration Policy Institute reports that about 65,000 immigrants serve in the U.S. military and foreign-born troops represent approximately five percent of active duty personnel. Over 11,000 foreign-born women serve in the Armed Forces. The National Center for Children in Poverty in turn counts 1.76 million children and youth in military families, a fraction of which hail from immigrant families.

Military families have a lot to deal with: the strain of constant separation due to frequent deployments; the stress caused by low wages and rising costs; the burden of one parent raising children and running a household alone; and most of all, the very real threat of losing a loved one fighting our wars abroad. Some immigrant military families have the additional anxiety brought on by an uncertain immigration status.

H.R. 398 would give those immigrant families a little reprieve to contend with our arcane and burdensome immigration system. It has been received in the Senate and is now with the Committee on the Judiciary. I wouldn’t be surprised if this also gains true and full bipartisan support among Senators and passes without many of us noticing. Now back to our sputtering economy, missing jobs and impotent lawmakers.

You can follow Erwin de Leon on Twitter or read his blog.

AboutErwin de Leon
Erwin de Leon is a Policy Researcher and writer based in Washington, DC. He writes on immigration, LGBT, and nonprofit issues. You can follow him on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.