On Monday evening I had the honor of being invited to speak to the San Gabriel Valley branch (“lodge”) of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance. The group is the oldest Asian-American civil rights organization in the U.S., a little humbling for me, and it was especially nice in that I grew up in the SGV, what is now a largely Asian area stretching for 20 miles, beginning just east of downtown Los Angeles. I must say that this was one of the warmest, friendliest and indeed most fun groups I’ve ever addressed, and I was greatly impressed by their commitment to serving the community.
I was asked to talk about H-1B, the RAISE Act (immigration reform bill endorsed by the Trump administration), and Affirmative Action in college admissions. At the last minute, DACA was added to the topic list. I protested that I had no expertise in the matter, but did speculate that Pres. Trump’s putting the DACA ball back in Congress’ court might give some momentum to the RAISE Act, which most DC people had assumed would not even make it to committee. It’s conceivable, I said, that RAISE could become part of the negotiations in forming DACA legislation. Well, what do you know! This afternoon Reuters reported that Trump wants to link DACA with RAISE.
In my talk, I stated that I personally don’t like RAISE, as I dislike elitist point systems-based immigration policies in general, but that I do support RAISE’s provisions to roll back two of the most heavily-used family-based sections of immigration law. Specifically, the bill would eliminate the ability of U.S. citizens (typically naturalized) to sponsor their parents and adult siblings for immigration. I stressed the fact that neither of these parts of immigration policy is in the national interest, and that a number of members of both parties have in fact expressed support for eliminating them, as RAISE would do.
I knew that those attending my talk would immediately understand the motivation for eliminating the ability to sponsor elderly parents — welfare usage is rampant in this immigration group, in fact virtually standard in the Chinese case. There is cash in the form of SSI, medical care through Medicaid, and miscellaneous items such as subsidized senior housing. I knew that when I said,”Just within a radius of only five miles from here, there are probably at least three or four large senior housing complexes, populated entirely by elderly [Chinese] immigrants,” the audience would know exactly what I was referring to, and would be sympathetic. After all, they don’t like their tax money going to such things — benefits for people who’ve never worked a day in the U.S. — any more than the rest of us do.
But I was less sure that I’d get a positive response to pointing out that the ability to sponsor adult siblings, the so-called Fourth Preference, makes no sense for the national interest either. It leads to chain migration, in which the people at the beginning of the chain have no relation to those just a few links down, and (as the authors of RAISE point out) with no redeeming positive gain to the nation.
Rep. Judy Chu, whose district includes large parts of the San Gabriel Valley, objected when the reform bill crafted by the bipartisan “Gang of 8” proposed eliminating these categories. Chu stressed how important it is to “keep families together.” But if family reunification is so important, why did some of the family members dis-unite from the others by coming to the U.S. in the first place? As I wrote in my 1996 Senate testimony,
Though the idea of reuniting long-lost loved ones is emotionally appealing, the fact is that most immigrants making use of family-reunification categories come to the U.S. primarily for economic reasons, rather than for the putative goal of rejoining family members.
This was noted, for example, in the analysis given by Louisiana State University professor Min Zhou in Chinatown, Temple University Press, 1992, pp.50-54. Dr. Zhou’s point is that people who want to immigrate to the U.S. go about finding some route to achieving that goal, and that family reunification happens to be such a route. One person she interviewed, for instance, says “People are very smart, they know how to get here quickly through the family connections.” Zhou notes that “Immigration opportunities for prospective immigrants would be close to zero without family or kinship connections.” In other words, though the philosophy of immigration law is that one immigrates in order to rejoin one’s family members, many are doing the opposite–rejoining their family members in order to immigrate.
Actually, people in Congress have been trying to eliminate the Fourth Preference since way back in 1986, if not earlier, but have always been blocked by Chinese-American organizations — such as that very same Chinese American Citizens Alliance. But I seemed to be getting looks of agreement from the audience when I made these points, and no one disagreed. Later one gentleman did say something in opposition privately, but that was all.
I regard this as quite significant. If even the rank-and-file members of this organization, with its history of fiercely defending the Fourth Preference, see that it plays no national-interest role and is in fact widely abused, maybe this anomaly in immigration law can finally be fixed.
What I am saying, in other words, is that while DACA+RAISE is probably a political nonstarter, pairing DACA with some rollback of these inappropriate parts of immigration law might be achievable. Note that RAISE itself would still allow the elderly parents to come to the U.S., but only as long-term visitors, rather than as immigrants. The is the Canadian approach, and should be taken here. Maybe some compromise could also be worked out for the Fourth Preference, giving the siblings special green cards that are not convertible to citizenship, and grandfathering or even fast-tracking those already in the queue.
Stranger things have happened in DC before.