The term “chain migration” is becoming commonplace in our political discourse when speaking about immigration policy.
Media outlets are even using this term with increasing frequency. No question is given, though, to what it means or if it even exists.
When people speak of “chain migration,” what they are doing is politicizing and sensationalizing what is actually called family reunification.
It’s the ability of U.S. citizens and some lawful permanent residents to petition the government for their immediate relatives.
The only people eligible for immediate visas for entry are parents, minor children or spouses of U.S. citizens.
All other relations are subject to annual visa caps, and those caps are so low that it could take years for your relative to be granted a visa. These visas are also divided based on preference levels.
The 2017 U.S. Department of State annual report on the wait lists for family-sponsored and employment-basis is available here.
A spouse or a minor unmarried child of a legal permanent resident will have to wait around two years. Other familial connections, however, may have to wait decades to immigrate legally.
For instance, in 2013 The Washington Post reported on an adult Filipino, who is legally allowed to immigrate to the U.S. because he’s the sibling of an adult U.S. citizen, has been waiting 24 years for his family-sponsored visa.
Someone petitioning for that person right now would have to wait until 2042 for them to get an appointment at their consulate for a visa interview.
Why so long? Because this is a fourth preference immigrant, and there are only 65,000 visas allowed annually for this category.
It also depends on if you are coming from a country with large numbers of immigrants to the U.S., such as the Philippines.
So, while you are legally allowed to immigrate, you find yourself separated from family and loved ones for years on end.
If this is the feared “chain immigration,” that chain is very, very weak.
Opponents of family reunification make it sound as if any immigrant can simply bring in their aunts, uncles, cousins twice removed and grandparents.
In reality, however, none of those relations even qualifies, and as already seen, the relations who do qualify have to wait up to 20 to 25 years to immigrate.
Beyond this, however, is a deeper issue. One that has to deal with the essence of what we claim to believe about the family.
Almost all Americans, especially the most conservative among us, claim to believe in the importance of family and family unity.
We say that family is the building block of society. Healthy families make healthy communities, which make a healthy nation.
But we sit idly by while there is a growing attack on families simply because they weren’t born here.
Either we believe in the family or we don’t. It doesn’t matter if they’re black, brown or white. It doesn’t matter if they’re born in the U.S., Mexico or China. Family is important, and preserving its unity ought to be priority.
This doesn’t mean you can’t also have employment-based immigration systems based on merit, but you can’t attack family reunification immigration, especially using the near slur of “chain migration,” if you also claim to believe in the family.
So, whenever you hear a politician speak of “chain migration,” remember what they are truly attacking: the unity and importance of the family.
Blake Hart is missions coordinator at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of South Carolina. A version of this article first appeared on his blog and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @blake_hart.
Blake Hart is executive director of the Carolina Immigrant Alliance.