Politics & Policy

Democrats Fear Debate about Dreamers Will Pivot to One on ‘Chain Migration’

Rep. Luis Gutiérrez speaks a at a Capitol Hill press conference in November 2017. (Reuters file photo: Aaron P. Bernstein)
The more Americans focus on immigration policy, the worse the Democrats will look.

No one knows when the government shutdown will be ended, but it’s increasingly likely that Democrats will rue the day they launched it. “I’m concerned that we don’t have an exit strategy,” one Democratic aide for a liberal senator told NBC News on Sunday. He went on to say: “This is a question of who’s going to flinch first.”

One reason Democrats are nervous is that the longer the shutdown goes on, the longer voters will start to realize the Democrats are fighting not so much for the Dreamers — people brought to this country as children by adults who entered illegally — but for the concepts of “chain migration” and the “diversity lottery,” which have done so much to warp our immigration policy and make it a shambles.

Ever since the passage of the late Senator Ted Kennedy’s immigration reform of 1965, legal immigrants have been able to petition for parents, adult brothers and sisters, and adult sons and daughters to come to the U.S. All of those groups can bring their own spouses and children. In turn, when they become citizens they can sponsor their own relatives, and the cycle continues. Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies wrote: “The result is chain migration, in which yesterday’s immigrants decide who tomorrow’s immigrants will be.”

Even staunch pro-immigration voices increasingly recognize that emphasizing family reunification through chain migration shouldn’t be the heart of our immigration policy. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, a prominent pro-immigrant voice for decades, and his co-author Clint Bolick wrote back in 2013:

Since the 1960s, the vast majority of legal immigrants have come pursuant to a very broad definition of “family reunification” — which includes not only spouses and minor children but parents and siblings. Family preferences account for two-thirds of all legal immigrants.

Bush and Bolick point out that the lack of an effective and rational work-visa system similar to the one that Canada and Australia use has cost this country in several ways. First, as the Wall Street Journal editorial page points out, it creates an unbalanced immigration flow: “It makes sense to focus on uniting nuclear families with dependent children rather than extended families.” Second, it has contributed to a polarizing immigration debate because Americans can’t accept that a doctor from Greece can’t immigrate here while a cab driver from Guatemala who is someone’s cousin can. Right now, only one in 15 of the more than 1 million immigrants who are admitted every year are given a visa because of their job skills or entrepreneurial ability. And third, the focus on family unification, and the resulting lack of a rational work-visa program, means that for most aspiring immigrants, their only choice is the arbitrary “diversity lottery” whereby visas are awarded randomly to 55,000 foreigners. As Jeb Bush and Clint Bolick point out, “there are roughly 250 applicants for each [diversity] visa every year. The absence of a meaningful avenue of access increases the pressure for illegal immigration.”

Over 70 percent of voters favor limiting chain migration to only the spouses and minor children of legal permanent residents and citizens.

It’s because Democrats fear that bringing these facts to light in a debate over Dreamers that they are trying to run away from the term “chain migration.” Media Matters, the pro–Hillary Clinton propaganda group, derides the term as “a misleading nativist buzzword.”

For his part, Representative Luis Gutiérrez (D., Ill.) distorted what critics of “chain migration” are against when on Sunday he accused them, on ABC’s This Week, of wanting “to end legal immigration.” He said the very term “chain migration” was offensive to him as a Hispanic and went on to say that the practice is “really about family reunification. It’s about a mom bringing their children, about children bringing their moms, about husband and a wife, those are the visas they’re going after.” Actually, almost every proposal to reform the system would still allow people to petition to bring immediate family members into the country. Family is the bedrock of our society, and immediate families should be together.

But as conscious of our immigrant traditions as Americans are, they do believe a line must be drawn. Over 70 percent of voters favor limiting chain migration to only the spouses and minor children of legal permanent residents and citizens.

Democrats who precipitated the shutdown love to cite statistics that show that 80 percent of Americans want to allow the Dreamers to stay — as no doubt any final resolution will allow. But they should worry that the longer the shutdown debate is focused on immigration, the more Americans will come to realize it’s about our underlying U.S. immigration policy — and Democrats are coming to realize just how shaky defending that ground might become.


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— John Fund is NRO’s national-affairs correspondent.

Editor’s Note: This article originally stated that Mark Krikorian is affiliated with the Center for American Studies. Krikorian is the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.

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