“Chain Migration” is a Nasty Canard

Let’s do a mental exercise.

Imagine that Jose moves to the United States from El Salvador. He comes here legally — he applied for the diversity visa lottery and he won! Then he quickly gathered together the required papers to prove to the U.S. that he was who he said he was, and he wasn’t a criminal, and he moved to New York.

Once Jose’s here, he brings his kids, his wife, and his parents. In the next two decades, his parents bring their other children, who bring their families, and so on.

In all, 40 members of their family resettle in the U.S. over a 20-year period. They do this by applying for and obtaining family reunification visas.

What is the net effect of Jose bringing his entire family on overall U.S. immigration?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

The U.S. has quotas for the number of immigrants who may come here legally in any given year. There are a few different types of visas, each with their own quotas.

Furthermore, there is a limit to how many people can come here from any one country, which primarily limits immigration from the countries with the most people coming here (like Mexico).

No matter how many relatives Jose wants to bring with him from his country, they still have to apply for visas — and there is a quota on how many visas will be given out.

You might have heard the term “chain migration.” It is a made-up, disparaging term for immigration for family reunification. It implies that allowing one single immigrant into the U.S. will unleash a flood of other family members all coming over the U.S. border.

It can’t. Not legally. Because we have quotas.

My family came here on a family reunification visa about a century ago. My great-great grandfather came here first. He then sent for his wife and kids, including my great grandmother.

They probably came here in the steerage. They were poor Eastern European Jews. My grandfather says they were from Austria. I’m sure they spoke no English.

I don’t know how that generation fared economically at first. The story my family tells is that my great grandmother was nuts. My grandfather once said to me, “It makes sense my mother is from the same country as Hitler!”

By the time she died, although she was an unpleasant person to her near-relations, she was also quite well off.

I know what happened later, though. My grandfather served in the U.S. Marine Corps in World War II and then owned a small business. His children all went to college. My mother has a master’s degree, as do I.

Many families have stories like this. Maybe the first person in the family to immigrate here is poor and uneducated, but they work hard, and future generations are better educated, speak English, and become better off.

There’s a good argument for allowing families to reunite in the United States. Families support one another. A single person who comes here alone will have no support system.

Furthermore, I imagine a lot of the same people who are yelling that we should limit family reunification immigration are also the people who call themselves “pro-family values.”

What kind of family values is it to force families to split up?

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