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.