What Chain Migration Really Is

Many of the readers of my blog know that I am the only foreigner within my nuclear family. Both my parents are naturalized U.S. citizens and my siblings were both born and raised in the United States. Even with those circumstances, I was not able to use “chain migration” to come to the United States. Let that sink in for a moment, two siblings and two parents did not allow me to use “chain migration” to come to the U.S. Therein lies the problem with the immigration debate, there are many narratives on both sides of the arguments that do not correspond to the realities of the immigration process.

As if that wasn’t enough, yesterday we looked at how Melania Trump’s parents likely benefited from “chain migration” to get their Green Cards and soon, their U.S. citizenship. All this while Donald Trump argues that chain migration needs to end. It’s the hypocrisy that drives me crazy.

In my case, and as I have written before, my immigration journey took over 12 years, which is the average for those from México. It was an on-and-off again affair because life, as in marriage, children and careers does not stand still and immigration policies demanding wait times of 12 years do not recognize that immigrants become adults or marry during that period. Each life change changes the immigrant’s status and thus the process changes along with it, pushing the wait time even further behind. Sometimes the immigrant makes life choices, like marrying that makes immigration a difficult choice of choosing between immigrating and abandoning their spouse or abandoning the immigration process.

The issue is not chain migration but rather that each country is treated differently. To blanket “chain migration” as a universal problem ignores the quota system for different countries. Unbeknownst to most, there are quotas in place that limit how many immigrants are allowed in each year. Hence, in the case of México, there is a twelve year wait on average, after qualifying. In other words, after qualifying to immigrate and depending on the qualification status, a Mexican must wait twelve or more years before immigrating. During that time the immigrant cannot make life-changing decisions, like getting married or having children. Doing those, or any other life-changing decisions could negate or fundamentally change the prior approval for the immigrant.

That is the reality of the immigration process as it stands today.

In addition to the debate on “chain migration,” there is also a “merit based” debate going on. Guess what, a merit-based process exists but it is not what many of those arguing for it understand it to be. For example, Melania Trump, if we are to accept her public statements to date, was a “merit-based” process based on her “extraordinary” career as a model. Other than taking off her clothes to pose nude, or semi-nude, it is difficult to see how “extraordinary” her modeling career was, but nonetheless, that is the “merit-based” process she used to get her Green Card, and subsequently her citizenship.

Other “merit-based” systems are scientific achievements like Nobel prizes or building business empires. You get the picture.

Like in the “chain migration” debate, what is missing in the “merit-based” debate is the reality of the immigrants coming to the country, the low-skilled workers that serve food in the restaurants, including Trump’s resorts, and the workers that build houses, as well as those that pick fruits and vegetables in the fields that grace the American tables at dinner time and whose exports bring money into the country.

Some advocates of merit-based immigration policies will tell you that it is necessary to precisely limit low-wage and low-skilled workers. The problem is that arguing that low-skilled immigrants are bad for the country ignores the reality that it is the opposite.

Regardless, to have a meaningful immigration policy debate it is important to understand that one-word tags, or phrases do not identify all immigrants equally. I have two parents and two siblings that are U.S. citizens, but I could not immigrate under the chain-migration process. Why? Because chain migration is not the ticket to the country many believe it to be.