Over the last couple weeks, “chain migration” has become a cultural buzzword. It was popularized by Donald Trump and Senate Republicans as they argued over their controversial budget compromise, which for a while seemed to be overshadowed by the partisan debate over immigration. Nevertheless, after two government shutdowns, Congress passed a budget on Feb. 9 that provided government funding for the next six weeks. It did not, however, release any pressure off of the DACA debate.
The immigration debate was the main reason why the budget took so long to approve. Trump has outlined four pillars that serve as the foundation of his larger immigration reform plan: ending the visa lottery system, heightened border security, citizenship for eligible DREAMers and an end to what he calls “chain migration.” He demands these four requirements in order to attain a “bipartisan” immigration deal.
There is something very partisan about Trump’s rhetoric around immigration reform: there is no such thing as “chain migration.”
The correct term for “chain migration” is family reunification, which accounts for about two-thirds of U.S. permanent migration each year. It is one of the four major ways immigrants enter the United States, along with the visa lottery, refugees or immigrants seeking asylum and employment-based immigration. In order to qualify for family reunification, one must be a spouse, parent, sibling or child of a U.S. citizen or green card holder.
The real problem with the words “chain migration” is that they were distinctly designed to target America’s fear of otherness and change.
They force lawmakers to think of the policy as distant and insignificant, rather than a concrete bill that has tangible consequences on American families. The new name, invented purely by anti-immigration politicians, draws no connection between the title of the policy and the lives it affects. Democratic Senator Chris Murphy expressed his sentiments towards the issue in the following tweet:
The immigration debate is not about abstract political policies. It is about the hardworking, brave, real people who carry the weight of America on their shoulders. And to use the term “chain migration” rips the soul and humanity out of these Americans. So next time you hear those words on the news, in your workplace or even in a classroom, remember Senator Murphy’s words: you are declaring a side.