Time to Shut Down Chain Migration

Our current family-based or “chain migration” legal immigration system is outdated and prioritizes relatives of existing immigrants over highly skilled and other merit-based applicants seeking to come to America. For decades, special interest groups and politicians have resorted to emotional appeals, rather than sound policy, to block needed reforms. During the forthcoming  debate over the unlawful Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Congress and the Trump administration should permanently end chain migration and transform the legal immigration system into a merit-based system that serves U.S. security and economic interests for a nation of 325 million.

Background: Chain migration is the process by which foreign nationals permanently resettle within the U.S. and subsequently bring over their foreign-born relatives, who then have the opportunity to bring over their foreign-born relatives, and so on, until entire extended families are resettled within the country.

Chain migration immigrants are able to obtain green cards (lawful permanent residency) and become U.S. citizens in 5 years (citizenship includes the ability to vote in elections and access to federal welfare and other government benefits). Family based immigration exists in other countries, but is drastically more prevalent in the U.S. due to our overly permissive laws. For example, admissions based mainly on employment skills accounted for “58 percent of immigrants in Canada in 2017, 67 percent in Australia in 2016-17 and about 12 percent in the U.S. in 2016.

According to a recent study, of the 33 million legal immigrants admitted to the U.S. over the past 35 years, “about 20 million were chain migration immigrants (61 percent).” The average immigrant sponsored 3.45 additional immigrants, the largest number of which are “spouses and parents of naturalized citizens because these categories are unlimited by law.

Public Opinion: A recent poll asked voters if they thought “immigration priority for those coming to the U.S. should be based on a person’s ability to contribute to America as measured by their education and skills or based on a person having relatives in the U.S.” The results were overwhelming. 79 percent of respondents said immigration should be based on a person’s ability to contribute to America, and only 21 percent said immigration should be based on having relatives in the U.S.

State of Play: On March 5, 2018, the DACA program will be terminated, and existing DACA recipients will begin losing their status at a rate of roughly 1,200 per day. By the end of September 2019, all 690,000 individuals currently in the program will have lapsed. A liberal court is attempting to intervene; however, at the request of the Department of Justice, the Supreme Court is giving expedited consideration to the constitutionality of DACA. This deadline has sparked a debate over our nation’s immigration policy in Congress, leading to the recent government shutdown caused by Democrats demanding amnesty be tied to federal spending. But as Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham recently clarified, the recent three-day government shutdown was primarily about chain migration, not DACA.

The primary conservative concern is that without ending chain migration, providing any amnesty to DACA beneficiaries would vastly increase the number of immigrants who eventually receive legal status or citizenship. An analysis by the Department of Homeland Security found that 76 percent of initial DACA beneficiaries were from Mexico. According to The Heritage Foundation’s Hans A. von Spakovsky, “Mexican immigrants sponsor an average of 6.38 additional legal immigrants—the highest rate of any nationality for chain migration.” Absent the elimination of chain migration, even a narrowly targeted amnesty could result in at least 3 to 4 million additional green card holders. That would almost certainly include the parents of DACA beneficiaries, who are responsible for violating U.S. immigration laws in the first place by entering the U.S. illegally with their minor child.

Conclusion: The U.S. should not reward law breaking, incentivize criminal behavior, or provide preferential treatment to illegal immigrants ahead of citizens and legal immigrants waiting in line. Without significant underlying reforms, providing amnesty is out of the question. Congress should enact immigration reform that ends family-based chain migration and replaces it with a merit-based system. This is one of the first steps to begin building an immigration policy that makes sense for all 325 million Americans and those who want to become citizens.

214 Massachusetts Avenue NE, Suite 400, Washington, DC 20002
© 2019 Heritage Action for America. All Rights Reserved.