Chain migration is a term that was popularized in the 1960s to describe how U.S. citizens and green card holders use current law to bring extended family into the country, much like links follow one another in a chain. It refers to a specific type of family reunification, i.e., when a family member is following another immigrant. It is not a derogatory term, but rather a term for a commonsense idea that people are more likely to move whether their relatives are. Chain migration is a mechanism that many families have historically used to bring their families over to the United States, including President Trump.
I bring the topic of chain migration up in the first place because for President Trump, an end to chain migration is an essential to sign off on any immigration deal for the 690,000 affected by DACA. Trump views chain migration both as a way for terrorists to enter the countries and as a way to open the floodgates of immigration by allowing an unlimited number of extended relatives. If we are to get into chain migration, we should figure out the demographics of these individuals and figures out what is going on. With that, let's cover the myths that are commonly used by the President and other like-minded individuals.
- "Chain migration" immigrants are a national security threat. The Cato Institute covered this topic last year, and found that the odds of being killed by such in immigrant in a terrorist attack is 1 in 723,000,000. To put this in perspective, the odds of being struck by lightning is 1 in 161,856. You are nearly 4,500 times more likely to get struck by lightning than killed by an immigrant brought in through chain migration, and over 50,000 times more likely to get killed by a native citizen.
- Immigrants using "chain migration" to enter the country do not have the skills to succeed in the U.S. Last month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the argument that these immigrants are incapable of succeeding because they lack literacy and work skills. Nearly half of adults who come to the United States through family-sponsored and diversity visa categories have a college degree. This is higher than the third of U.S. natives that have a college education.
- The low-skilled "chain migration" immigrants are ruining this country. 11 percent of those who come through family-based immigration lack a significant formal education. Nevertheless, these individuals, by and large, succeed. This does not surprise me in the least since low-skilled immigrants on the whole positively contribute to the economy.
- "Chain migration" is a loophole resulting in an influx of millions of immigrants. Trump claims that "a single immigrant can bring in unlimited numbers of distant relatives." That simply is not true. If you take a look at current law, it only allows for sponsoring immediate relatives (i.e., spouses, children, siblings, parents) and their spouses and minor children. Current law does not allow for aunts, uncles, and cousins, not to mention that immigrants cannot sponsor relatives until they themselves have green cards or become naturalized citizens.
- Although there is no cap for immediate family members, there is a maximum of 480,000 family preference visas. In 2015, 69 percent of these visas were for U.S. citizens' spouses and children, which further diminishes the argument.
- Per a report released from the Congressional Research Service [CRS] on the topic of family-based visas earlier this month, we have a backlog of 3.95 million people, with average wait time being 23 months and waits as long as 23 years (CRS, p. 13, 19).
- The CRS report points out that Trump's hypothetical of immigrants flooding our cities is theory without empirical backing. The report then lists reasons for family-based immigration being more modest, including needing U.S. citizenship, the fact that not all eligible candidates want to immigrate to the United States, and long wait times for visas (CRS, p. 24-25). As the Right-leaning Manhattan Institute states, "Chain migration is an information system that enables networks of people to find each other to come and work. If there is no work, individuals will not invite family members to come."