Congress

Chain migration: Compassionate policy or opening the immigration floodgates?

Rep. Luis Gutierrez D-Ill., third from left, along with other demonstrators protest outside of the U.S. Capitol in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and Temporary Protected Status (TPS), programs, during an rally on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez D-Ill., third from left, along with other demonstrators protest outside of the U.S. Capitol in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and Temporary Protected Status (TPS), programs, during an rally on Capitol Hill in Washington. AP

Immigration reduction advocates blame chain migration for exploding the numbers of legal immigrants in this country. Reform advocates say it’s a pillar of the country’s immigration policy that helps families stay together.

Now President Donald Trump is blaming the policy for allowing Monday's New York City bombing suspect into the country, saying it “allows far too many dangerous, inadequately vetted people to access our country.”

Trump campaigned on ending chain migration, which refers to rules in the Immigration and Nationality Act that allow citizens and people with green cards to secure immigrant visas for family members.

He’s demanded that Congress make good on that promise in the near future, as part of a legislative solution for people living in the country under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The dispute could be a key flashpoint in White House-Congress negotiations as lawmakers struggle to resolve the issue.

Immigrants’ rights groups say doing away with chain migration would radically change the nation’s immigration system and reduce the number of people of color coming into the country.

They push back on using the term chain migration, saying it tars a basic cornerstone of the current legal immigration structure: Allowing legal immigrants to bring their family members with them. Efforts to do away with that, they say, mask a greater goal of limiting overall immigration numbers from certain populations.

“This administration is using that term to avoid using the word family, because it sanitizes what is really an attack on families and the immigration system,” said Megan Essaheb, director of immigration advocacy for the group Asian Americans Advancing Justice.

“This, along with all of the [White House’s] other immigration policies, feel like an attack on immigrants and communities of color, and an attempt to keep the numbers of people of color down in the United States,” said Essaheb.

A article in the conservative Breitbart News last month praised Trump’s plans to end chain migration, saying it “would halve the annual immigration inflow of new workers and future voters,” which Essaheb said hints at the policy’s race-baiting nature.

Immigration control advocates say it’s strictly about the numbers. Chain migration has caused legal immigration to quadruple in the last 50 years since the Immigration and Nationality Act was created, they say.

The immigration control group NumbersUSA calls the policy “one of the chief culprits in America's current record-breaking population boom and all the attendant sprawl, congestion, and school overcrowding that damage Americans’ quality of life.”

As lawmakers in Washington scramble to find a legislative solution for the approximately 800,000 people living in the country under the DACA program, Trump’s demands that it be paired with an end to chain migration could complicate negotiations.

Conservatives say they have a mandate from the president to deliver a solution that includes ending chain migration.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Monday, “The president is aggressively going to continue to push forth responsible immigration reform, and ending chain migration would certainly be a part of that process.”

But Democrats and some Republicans maintain that in White House negotiations, Trump has indicated he’d settle for increased border security, without massive changes to legal immigration law.

Democrats challenge the notion Trump would hold up a DACA solution over chain migration. Immigration reform advocates say polling indicates the public overwhelmingly supports giving DACA recipients permanent citizenship, and so do many Republicans in Congress.

“We’ve made a lot of progress with rank and file House Republicans calling for a solution by the end of the year,” said Essaheb, who pointed to the Dream Act, one DACA solution under consideration, which has support from members of both parties in both chambers.

“I don’t think President Trump is going to veto the Dream Act,” she added.

Conservatives push back on that plan, saying that without an end to chain migration, a DACA fix would dramatically increases the number of people allowed into the country.

Andrea Drusch: 202-383-6056, @AndreaDrusch

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