As the emotionally charged national debate over immigration roils communities across the United States, the much-reported movement of thousands of undocumented children across the U.S.-Mexican border into this country has become the latest flash point of discussion.
While the children’s attempts to reunite with family members in the United States has garnered much attention and opened a new subject for discourse, another example of divided immigrant families, working through legal immigration, has been largely overshadowed.
Since October 1, 2013, some 57,000 children, mostly from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, have made their way from their countries — all of which are plagued by drug-trade-fueled violence — through Mexico and illegally into the United States in an attempt to reunite with relatives here. Most of the children have been caught by U.S. authorities and are being housed in temporary emergency shelters, pending a determination of their status. Several of the emergency shelters are in Texas, which has become immigration’s ground zero for these children from Central America.
And Texas is also is the hub of another phenomenon caused by immigration — the significant number of people who have entered the United States legally with an H-1B visa to work, but whose spouses have not been permitted to join them. The federal government grants 85,000 H-1B visas per year to highly skilled workers from overseas. Most work in the technology sector, with 70 percent in computer technology alone. Twenty thousand of the annual H-1B visas are reserved for immigrants with advanced degrees from U.S. universities and colleges.
Many of the spouses of H-1B visa workers are also well-educated, but no matter their credentials, they are not automatically permitted to accompany their spouses into the United States. Of those H-1B visa workers in computer technology, 26 percent of the men and 76 percent of the women are married, but in 2013, only half of the eligible spouses joined these workers in this country.
These statistics do not even account for the children of H-1B visa workers who have been left behind in India and other countries.
Spousal separation adds yet another dimension to the debate over immigration that policymakers Washington may have to address.
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