How “Chain Migration” has Shaped and Enriched the U.S.

A cornerstone of President Trump’s anti-immigration agenda has been his assaults on so called “chain migration,” a pejorative term for a program allowing lawful permanent residents (i.e. “green card” holders) and U.S. citizens to sponsor close relatives for residency. He has linked family-based immigration to crime and an increased risk of terrorist attacks in the U.S., even though no evidence exists to support this assertion. He has instituted insidious attacks on the legal immigration system in general by supporting policies that make the immigration process more burdensome. [See Explaining ‘Chain Migration,’ by John Burnett, NPR, 07.Jan.2018.]

Now, President Trump has begun to trumpet a “merit-based” immigration program to displace the family visa sponsorship program. Immigration experts recognize that this proposed plan is primarily aimed at imposing his stated goal of slashing the number of green cards issued by half over the next decade. Fortunately, it appears his proposal has little chance of success. But still, it seems worth examining the myriad of ways the U.S. has been bolstered by the emphasis on family unity that is embedded in our U.S. immigration system.

According to 2017 U.S. Census Bureau statistics, our nation’s foreign born population is at its highest in more than a century. And there is a marked shift in this demographic. While the majority of immigrants in decades past were from Latin America, most of our immigrants now hail from Asian countries, including China and India. Forty five percent of immigrants to the U.S. have college degrees, up from thirty percent in 2009. And these highly educated immigrants are sponsoring family members to come to America to live and work while bolstering the economy with their specialized skill sets.

Jagdish Patel, an immigrant from India who was recently profiled by the New York Times, is a prime example of how family visa sponsorship benefits communities. Patel arrived in the United States during the 1970’s with an engineering degree. By the mid 1980’s, he had successfully sponsored his wife, mother, and six siblings for green cards. His siblings later sponsored their own family members, and to date more than 90 members of Patel’s family have immigrated, with many of them eventually obtaining legal permanent residency, or “green cards.” The family includes network engineers, venture capitalists, doctors, dentists, and students, as well as children who were born here. [See One Face of Immigration in Asia Is a Family Tree Rooted in Asia, by Miriam Jordan and Sabrina Tavernise, the New York Times, 16.Sep.2018.]

Patel is proud of how he and his family have contributed economically to the country they have made their home. “I am so glad that I came to America,” he explained to the New York Times. “I brought everyone here, and we have provided valuable service to this country.” Their achievements are hardly unique. Over the last forty years, millions of immigrants from India have come to the U.S. to innovate as programmers and engineers in Silicon Valley, work as doctors and researchers in our heartland, and start businesses that create jobs for their community. And roughly two-thirds of them were sponsored for immigrant visas by relatives. [See U.S. has Highest Share of Foreign Born Since 1910, with More Coming from Asia, by Sabrina Tavernise, the New York Times, 13.Sep.2018.]


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