Misconceptions about Chain Migration

Since the term chain migration is a hot topic these days, it’s important to avoid the “fake news” and look at the issue factually. One may feel it’s harmful or beneficial, but the conversation is doomed without the facts. Here are some important points:

  • It’s not a new issue (or a new term). As Mark Krikorian has pointed out, debate about chain migration has been active for decades, even though many in the press are describing it as a new (and by implication evil) idea from President Trump.
  • There has been bipartisan support for curbing chain migration in recent years. Both major parties have recognized that there is neither a moral benefit nor a national interest in our having a chain migration policy. Again, it’s not some harebrained idea dreamed up by Trump in a Twitter frenzy.
  • A typical chain evolves slowly but surely. There have been a number of statements in the press by immigration lawyers and immigrant advocacy groups along the lines of, “Someone who immigrates today can’t, say, bring his nephew with him.” True, but misleading — and stated by people who KNOW they are being misleading.That new immigrant, whom I’ll call John, can naturalize after several years, then sponsor his sister Jane for immigration. That latter process will also take years, but when Jane’s turn comes, she brings along John’s nephew Jack and niece Jill (if under 21) — and Jane’s husband Jim. As we say in computer science, then apply recursion: Jim can later naturalize, then sponsor HIS siblings, etc. After a few links of such a chain, the person in the first link, John, has no relation to later links, has no idea who they even are. The rationale for admitting the first link, John, has no bearing on later links after a certain point.
  • Eliminating chain migration would not disfavor immigration from East Asia. Over the years, the main opposition to repealing the Fourth Preference category (John sponsoring Jane above) has come from Asian groups, chiefly Chinese, who have been especially aggressive in using this provision. Now they are opposing RAISE — and of course calling it anti-Asian prejudice —  saying that they need the Fourth Preference, and that the points that RAISE would give English skills would adversely affect them too. Well, perhaps they’ve never heard of China’s One Child Policy? Immigrants coming from China these days don’t HAVE siblings; there is no Jane. And as I explained before, if English is needed as a requirement for immigration, people in China will happily pick up the language.


[Apparently incorrect passage deleted, Jan. 11. — NM]


You know the old saying by Sen. Dirksen, “A billion here, and billion there, it adds up!” Many of the chains are quite long. Let’s call John in our example above a Link 1 immigrant, first in the chain, with his sister Jane being Link 2, and so on. While I don’t have hard data on this — likely no one does — I am sure that the vast majority of foreign-born people in the U.S. today are at least Link 3, many of them having a link number of much more than 3.

If you then count their descendants, I think even immigrant advocates would not dispute the following fact:

A high portion of U.S. population growth since the 1965 Immigration Act has come from chain migration.

Is that a good thing or a bad one? On the one hand, one can easily argue that the growth has come too fast. The government cannot build a new San Francisco Bay Bridge every year (or every 50 years), and the result is that it is difficult to get across the bridge even late at night. When I drove into LAX a few months ago to pick someone up, it was gridlock at 10 pm. I believe that all the students and staff at my institution, the University of California, Davis, would agree that our campus has grown way too fast; students are having a terrible time trying to get the classes they need. In the drought of the last few years, there were real fears of possible water shortages, this in a state that used to be at the forefront of managing water resources before the population boom. And, I might add, California is at or near the bottom in per pupil education spending and test scores, again counter to what used to be the case before the heavy influx.

All of this argues in favor of the RAISE Act, which is being vigorously promoted by the immigration reform organizations (FAIR, NumbersUSA, CIS). It would end chain migration, and implement a skills-based system. The latter presumably would increase tax revenues and reduce social services spending, solving some of California’s problem, and probably improve K-12 test scores (though exacerbate UC overcrowding).

On the other hand, numbers are power. China will overtake the U.S. in size of economy (which translates to power in various ways)  in a decade or so, NOT because of its economic system — it is still a poor country in per-capita terms — but simply due to the sheer size of its population. So the Council for Foreign Relations types want us to “compete” by establishing our own large population. And I think that argument would resonate with many Americans.

Another argument that appeals to many Americans is the idea of an egalitarian immigrant pool. It may be trite to bring up the Lazarus poem on the Statue of Liberty, but the concept is part of our culture. As I have said before, I personally support that notion, and thus do not support RAISE. In addition, it would exacerbate the foreign tech worker/age discrimination problem 

That is not to say that I oppose ending chain migration. I do believe we should change policy in that regard. In the above scenario, John should be allowed to bring in his parents, but with special long-term visitor permits, rather than allowing them to naturalize and go on SSI, Medicaid and subsidized senior housing, a rampant problem for the last 20 years. As (permanent) noncitizens, they would not be able to add to the chain. And John would have to give an ironclad guarantee to support his parents, including health care. His sister Jane and her family should be allowed to come too, but with a new type of permanent residency, one that does not lead to naturalization, again meaning they could not extend the chain.

There is a lot of misinformation/disinformation about RAISE too. I won’t bother to rehash that, but I renew my plea for people to keep a skeptical eye on the various arguments you’ll hear — plausible, but seriously misleading. The President’s famous quote, “The press is the enemy of the American people,” is pure Trump in terms of its extreme, unvarnished tone, but he ain’t that far off the mark.

17 thoughts on “Misconceptions about Chain Migration

  1. I’m not excited about chain migration, it chooses people but does not increase the total.

    And I think the “billion” quote comes from Everett Dirksen.


  2. The income to sponsor family reunification visas is absurdly low (125% of the poverty level) especially when the cost of health care is considered. Children qualifying at the 125% income level qualify for free breakfasts and lunches at school and the myriad of other benefits like cheap internet, school supplies, holiday gift programs, etc. that use qualification for the lunch programs as the determining factor.

    Dependent elderly parents are my biggest issue. Are you aware that they may qualify for Social Security survivors benefits until they die if their sponsoring child dies. This can be longer than the child of a deceased worker qualifies. And we wonder why Social Security is going broke. (Children whom the SS recipient is not required by law to support are eligible for SS benefits too.)

    For housing in my area (one of the cheapest in the country) a family of 4 is considered low income for housing at $51,100; San Francisco is $105,350. https://www.huduser.gov/portal/datasets/il/il2017/select_Geography.odn

    If a sponsor cannot afford to support ones self and a spouse, supporting even one pair of parents is unrealistic without receiving taxpayer funded benefits.

    A more reasonable number is many times the current % plus health insurance.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Why should a new immigrant be allowed to bring in siblings and their families when born citizen children of earlier immigrants cannot sponsor extended family members? The World Wars prevented many potential immigrants from completing their travel to the US yet their children and grandchildren still yearn to come. The only way to do so is the Diversity Visa lottery when the country qualifies or work visas which in years past had been unavailable.

    Many are in far more dire straits than the Asians, South Asians and Middle Eastern immigrants of today. I think living in the shadow of Chernobyl is far more of an issue than living in a metropolis in China or India.


      • Our elected representatives are not listening to or representing the citizens who elected them.

        The unfairness and insane activities in the current immigration process defy logic. Inconsistencies cannot be explained. I continue to be stunned by what is going on in my Midwestern community and I know the issues on the coasts dwarf those in my area..


  4. Norm, you may be underestimating the high value of part of a green card, extending it to parents. Many fly in for their medical, and mandatory 6 months presence, and fly out. Free medical worth a fortune.

    Liked by 1 person

    • >> Many fly in for their medical, and mandatory 6 months presence, and fly out. Free medical worth a fortune

      As for medical care, there is a new trend — contrary to what you are saying, lately the converse is happening — Fly out to, say, India, get their medical done over there and come back. Unless, it’s a very high end,sophisticated and only our country can treat sort of ailment, medical tourism is the latest thing. Much much “cheaper” (earn in dollar, spend in “local currency”) overseas than here.

      So much that the immigrants who get their parents here, are finding it “cheaper” to fly them out to get it treated and then get them back later. Even Americans are slowly seem to be embracing it, per couple of my physician friends across the country – Could be anecdotal, but it could be a sign of whats to come..


      • More likely is they are going for emergency Medicaid.

        I am stunned by discussions of flying family member into the US on visit visas individuals with active TB for treatment in the US. An international student with TB exposed many students and university employees in my community not too many years ago. Some days I want to have my grandchildren go to school in hazmat suits.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Depends on if there’s a bill attached to it or not. If covered by Medicaid at 100%, then cheaper here.
        Yes, many purchases, including some health, are put off until flying “home”. But there’s no beating 100% covered.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That is only for very specific elective procedures (like hip or knee replacement, or certain major cosmetic surgeries) if there are high insurance copays, or no insurance.


  5. There is a lot of chatter recently about “human trafficking” particularly focused on importing (or enslaving) Hispanic women as prostitutes for imported Latino workers (males) here in the U.S. I suspect that any policy that does not address (or even worsens) this issue will not get much traction. The topic of chain-migration should not include a man’s own wife and children, but should include everyone else in the family, I believe. Without making this distinction, I perceive a lot more problems with human trafficking, or at least using this issue as an obstacle to any sort of reform.


    • I think most people support allowing the immigration of a person’s spouse and MINOR children.

      In fact, I support a faster reunification process. I cannot understand why H-1B and L1 workers can immediately bring a new spouse (and stepchildren) while an immigrating new spouse of USC or LPR have significant waits for entry.

      The verification of reason for marriage of guest worker new spouses is less vigorous that that of USCs and LPRs. In some cultures the guest worker is meeting the spouse for the first time when returning to the home country for the wedding festivities, A visitor marrying an H-1B worker is immediately eligible for H4 status while a visitor marrying a USC or LPR has more hoops and time to obtain a green card and residency. While the spouse’s state may be “pending AOS” , he/she does not have the immediate flexibility for travel.

      Should we not be expediting reunification for USC and LPR families and making individuals marrying guest workers prove that their marriages are not for an immigration benefit, i..e. an immediate H-4 or L-2 visa.


  6. “And John would have to give an ironclad guarantee to support his parents, including health care.”

    And when the guarantee doesn’t prove ironclad, can we come after assets of those that suggest we will simply ignore their needs? I’d like an ironclad actual contract that allows that.

    And why is it ok to let immigration drive the population when the people of this state were clearly resisting the necessary building of a housing supply adequate so that people who didn’t own wouldn’t suffer economically? Willful blindness can be consider criminal and there’s millions of mass immigration advocates who deserve to suffer the consequences that they have inflicted on others by failing to insist housing supply as a necessary precondition.

    Could you translate Emma Lazarus’ poem into actual policy and suggest how the costs of that policy are to be allocated?


  7. “When the hypothetical sister Jane is sponsored in my example above, she counts in an extended-family visa category — but her husband Jim does NOT count. Her two children, Jack and Jill, do NOT count either.”

    Are you sure about this? I think they DO count. The F4 family-based category (brothers and sisters of US Citizens) has a limit of 65,000 per year. According to the 2016 statistics below, Jim and the two children seem to be counted against the total 65,000.


    Am I missing something like a loophope?


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