Pro-Immigration Conservatives Should Not Peddle the Chain Immigration Fallacy

Unfounded restrictionist tropes won't serve the cause of rational immigration reform.

On immigration, it seems, the conservatives' principle is conservation of anti-immigration bias. If they tamp down animus against one set of immigrants, then they must whip it up against another.

How else to explain the gratuitous swipe against “chain migration” in an otherwise excellent commentary in The Wall Street Journal last week by Jeb Bush and Clint Bolick debunking virtually every other immigration myth on the right?

While calling for more employment-based immigration, creditably for both skilled and unskilled foreign workers, Bush and Bolick maintained that since the 1960s, thanks to American emphasis on family reunification, the driver of immigration to the U.S. has been “chain migration,” which purportedly allows immigrants to bring in their extended families until entire villages are emptied out.  

But “chain migration” is a myth cooked up by ultra-restrictionist organizations, such as NumbersUSA, that foster misunderstanding about how U.S. laws work and undermine more-welcoming policies.

According to NumbersUSA, chain migration results in “endless and often-snowballing chains of foreign nationals who are allowed to immigrate because the law allows citizens and lawful permanent residents to bring in their extended, non-nuclear family members.” And these family members bring in still more people, creating a chain reaction.

Seriously? Consider the facts.

There is no provision in U.S. immigration laws for either permanent residents (green-card holders) or American citizens to sponsor non-nuclear relatives such as aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, grandparents, cousins—you name it—to come to the U.S. Other than immediate family members, such as spouses, parents and minor children, the only relatives who can be sponsored are adult children and siblings. That’s it.

And the wait times—thanks to backlogs created by quotas upon quotas—in those two categories are so long that they have become virtually unusable.

A 2011 study by the pro-immigration National Foundation for American Policy found that the wait time for a U.S. citizen to bring a brother or sister from the Philippines exceeded 20 years, and from Mexico 15 years, because these countries get the same annual quota as every other nation yet the demand for them is much greater, creating backlogs. For siblings from other countries, the wait time is about a decade—a little less for adult unmarried children, and a little more for married ones.

Consider the predicament of the 25-year-old foreign wife of a U.S. citizen who wants to bring her 24-year-old brother into the country: It would take her about a year to obtain her green card once she got married. After that, the quickest route would begin with the five-year wait to obtain her citizenship.

At about 31, she would be able to sponsor her brother, now 30, and his family, if any. If the brother is from the Philippines, he would have to wait until he was 50 before he had a prayer of getting a green card; or 45 if from Mexico, and 40 if from some other country. Most people have built lives for themselves in their home country by that age and, when their turn comes, they opt out.

If the brother and his family still decided to immigrate to the U.S., then they would have to go through about the same 20- to 30-year process to sponsor their own next of kin. Over 50 years, then, most families have time to traverse at best two links in the migration “chain.” It is no surprise that siblings of U.S. citizens constitute only 6 percent of immigrants legally admitted every year and adult children 2 percent.  

It is true that 65 percent of foreigners admitted annually are under the family program, rather than the one based on employment. More than half of them, however, are the spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens. Hence, curbing family-based immigration would require breaking apart families. Saying so openly would make Republicans look heartless—which is why they are resorting to baseless claims about “chain migration.”

The more humane and rational way of bringing balance between family- and employment-based immigration isn't by clamping down on the former—but increasing the latter. It would be a real tragedy if immigration reform turns into a zero-sum game.

This column originally appeared in Bloomberg View.

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  • Almanian.||

    But, but....ANKUR BAYBEEZ!!!!!

  • Almanian.||

    or something

  • Jordan||

    I don't know why everyone gets up in arms about anchors procreating. How else will new ships get one?

  • Cliché Bandit||

    This should be a fun thread.

  • SIV||

    It's Shikha, no one is going to read it.

  • wlion||

    til I saw the bank draft ov $6092, I did not believe that my friend had been truley erning money parttime from there labtop.. there mums best friend has done this for less than ten months and as of now repaid the dept on there home and bourt a great new Ariel Atom. this is where I went,

  • SIV||

    Why does every pos Shikha Dalmia piece get linked twice around here?

    Then they hide the original

    In her usual "insightful analysis" how does Shikha back up her claim chain migration is a myth?

    It is true that 65 percent of foreigners admitted annually are under the family program, rather than the one based on employment.

    By immediately disproving her contention.

  • WTF||

    I didn't bother to RTFA, but holy shit!

  • Ron||

    I didn't either but anything over 50% is a slam dunk. This just proves that some people just don't care what the numbers are, just listen to what I say.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    Fuck, anonbot has a more varied repertoire.

  • SIV||

    He usually is one of the few to comment in Ms Dalmia's posts. See my link to the "original" above.

  • kinnath||

    Don't you have any other topic that you're interested in writing about?

  • DJF||

    She must have some relatives she promised to bring into the USA.

  • Mickey Rat||

    No. Because she is an immigrant, she seems to take any restriction on immigration as a personal insult, hence her obsession.

  • Harun||

    The other kind of immigrant demands to shut the door the minute they get in.

    CSB: Once walked into a liquor store run by Sikhs. Sikh man was watching Clinton speech. Somehow I asked if he liked Clinton. He said he hated him. I asked why. Sikh replies "He lets too many foreigners come into the country."

    I don't know if I get trolled or not, but since he said he hated him first, I think maybe not.

  • XTSee||

    The boys are catty this morning, what?

  • Almanian.||


  • Ron||

    Just talk to a few immigrants and they will tell you that they are bringing in the rest of their family. Of course people who do studies either don't talk to immigrants or the immigrants are smart enough to lie to strangers who ask them. Once you get to know them they will tell you hell yes I'm bringing the rest of my family here.

  • ||


  • Another David||

    If you talk to me for a while I'll tell you I'm going to get in shape, finally read Ulysses and retire in luxury before living to 95. So?

  • Harun||

    My friend got his neices in from Thailand as a nanny.

  • buybuydandavis||

    Another open borders article from Shikha. What a surprise. Does she ever write on anything else?

    She says
    'It is true that 65 percent of foreigners admitted annually are under the family program'

    'But “chain migration” is a myth'

    So apparently 65 percent of immigration is a myth. She's always in conflict with the facts. Now she's in conflict with facts that she put in her own article.

  • XM||

    To be fair, I think she's saying "Chain migration" isn't as easy as some might suggest.

    This strikes me as a non issue, since immigrants typically bring their immediate family with them when they move.

  • Irene W. Platt||

    If you think Allen`s story is unimaginable..., last month my auntie's boy friend basically also earned $8305 putting in a eighteen hour week from home and their neighbor's mom`s neighbour has done this for eight months and got over $8305 in their spare time on line. the advice from this web-site,

  • wlion||

    til I saw the bank draft ov $6092, I did not believe that my friend had been truley erning money parttime from there labtop.. there mums best friend has done this for less than ten months and as of now repaid the dept on there home and bourt a great new Ariel Atom. this is where I went,

  • Milburn97||

    uptil I looked at the bank draft which said $5103, I be certain best friend woz like actualey bringing in money part-time from there computar.. there aunts neighbour haz done this 4 less than ten months and just paid the mortgage on there mini mansion and bourt Subaru Impreza. read more at,

  • Federale||

    Typically libertarians are as dishonest as liberals when dealing with immigration. If you bring in an adult spouse, parent or sibling, you get their extended family as well. An adult sibling can bring spouse and minor children. When they naturalize they can bring in adult children and adult sibling. A parent can naturalize and bring in siblings, those siblings spouses and children. Adult children bring their spouses and children.

    Eventually, everyone in a family qualifies. The question is why libertarians are so dishonest? The other question is why libertarians want so many welfare recipients here. Unskilled workers subsist off the welfare state.

    And selecting immigrants by family relationship is worse than random selection. Selection should be based on skills and education, not relationships. A 70 year old retired rice farmer will be contributing nothing to the country while a young immigrant with a Masters or PhD in engineering will be more likely to contribute. Most immigrants are low skilled and are net consumers of other peoples monies seized through the tax system.

    Get a clue.

  • John Castle||

    There's nothing fallacious about this. It's historically proven by the 1986 amnesty, despite which there are millions more illegal aliens here now. The experiment's already been done; the results are already in.

  • Neville3||

    If you think Benjamin`s story is impressive..., last munth my aunts step daughter actually earned $5291 sitting there sixteen hours a week from their apartment and their best friend's mother-in-law`s neighbour has done this for 7-months and made over $5291 part-time from a laptop. use the information available at this link,

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