WASHINGTON -- A federal advisory commission will soon recommend gradually reducing legal immigration by one-third and reshuffling visa priorities to speed up the admission of spouses and young children of legal aliens, members of the panel said.
The proposals, to be presented to Congress later this month, would make the biggest changes in more than 40 years in policies governing the selection of legal immigrants.
The panel would clear up a huge backlog of visa applications from immediate relatives of permanent resident aliens.
But it would also eliminate visa preferences for siblings and adult children of U.S. citizens, making it more difficult for them to immigrate.
The nine-member advisory panel, the Commission on Immigration Reform, headed by former Rep. Barbara Jordan of Texas, will emphasize the importance of the nuclear family as the basic unit of immigration, members said.
Under the panel's recommendations, immediate relatives of United States citizens -- spouses, children under 21 and parents -- would still be allowed to immigrate without a waiting period or numerical limits.
But panel members said they would recommend eliminating immigration preferences that have been granted for decades to other close relatives: brothers, sisters and adult children of U.S. citizens.
In general, those relatives could not get visas to immigrate unless they qualified because of their job skills.
The commission's proposals are likely to be influential on Capitol Hill because Congress created the commission, appointed eight of the nine members and is seeking new ways to overcome deep disagreements on immigration policy.
Many Republican lawmakers favor new limits, but some, like House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas see immigration as an engine of economic growth and oppose new restrictions.
In addition, the recommendations come at a time when many Americans are expressing concern about immigration, legal and illegal.
In California last November, voters approved a ballot measure that would make illegal aliens ineligible for public education and most social services.
Judges have held up its enforcement while they sort through legal challenges.
In March, the House of Representatives approved a bill that would deny welfare, food stamps and Medicaid to legal aliens.
One member of the panel, Bruce A. Morrison, a former Democratic member of Congress from Connecticut, said: "Current levels of legal immigration are not a problem. But in the context of substantial illegal immigration, there is a problem."