Family Should Be a Vehicle for Immigrant Integration, Professor Say
There are many ways to think about family within the context of immigration and citizenship law, according to Hiroshi Motomura, a law professor at the University of North Carolina, and it makes a difference how family is interpreted in the law.
Motomura encouraged the audience at the "Welcome to America: Immigration, Families, and the Law" conference March 31 to "think about not just the family as introducing time but also as the family as a vehicle for the law to work in a very instrumental way to foster the integration of immigrants." Ariela Dubler, associate professor of law at Columbia University and a family law specialist, provided comments on Motomura's talk.
Motomura argued that "the rule of law — ought to foster the immigration. It really should perform some kind of shaping function." The consequences of inhibiting the integration of immigrant families are significant, he noted. In a survey of German society, he found that there were large populations of immigrants living in and contributing to society, but they did not have a full voice because they were not considered citizens.
"If you don't give citizenship to the children, you are forever hampering the ability of that family vehicle to integrate into American society in the future," Motomura said.
Dubler raised further questions for Motomura's consideration.
Family law is applicable across other areas of law, including citizenship and immigration law, Dubler explained. In law, it often matters that individuals are situated in a family because people confront the law simultaneously as individuals and as a family. For example, mothers commit crimes, or sons go bankrupt, she said.
She agreed that time is a critical component of the formation of family and that families "serve as a site for the formation of citizens."
Further defining Motomura's concept of family within the law, Dubler described the functional and formal recognition of family. The functional definition recognizes the family by virtue of their patterns of behavior over time. But behavior over time does not always constitute lawful recognition and sometimes the law rejects the functional family arrangement. On the other hand, the formal recognition of family is based on biological, adoptive, or marital relationships. "It matters not all how you lived over time or how you treated each other over time," Dubler said.
The conference was sponsored by the Center for Children, Families, & the Law, the College of Arts & Sciences, the School of Law, and the Virginia Journal of Social Policy & the Law.