Illegal Border Crossings Today:

What is Chain Migration in the US?


While illegal immigration dominates the discussion about immigration policy, our nation’s legal immigration process also needs a significant overhaul. Currently, our legal immigration system serves no identifiable public or national interests. Worse yet, it is unfair and discriminates against the vast majority of people around the world who might seek to immigrate to this country.

Some basic facts about current U.S. immigration policy:

  • The United States admits about a million legal immigrants each year.
  • The vast majority of legal immigrants are admitted solely because they are related to other recent immigrants. Family-based immigration is not limited to nuclear family members, i.e. spouses and minor children. It includes extended family members including siblings, parents, and adult children. All of these relatives are admitted without regard to their job skills, education, or other pertinent qualifications. Moreover, in time, each of these extended family members can petition for their own extended relatives.
  • Only about 6 percent of legal immigrants are admitted based on their skills. If dependent family members are included, they account for nearly 15 percent of legal immigration.
  • Almost 50,000 legal immigrants are admitted by lottery. In other words, we admit the equivalent of a small city each year by picking people out of a virtual hat.

Not surprisingly, given the way we admit legal immigrants to the United States, many are failing once they arrive here. More than half of all immigrant-headed households in the United States rely on at least one form of public assistance.

Current U.S. immigration policy is not just irrational; it is also discriminatory. As a result of family chain migration, just ten nations account for 60 percent of all green cards issued. Thus, highly-qualified people from most of the rest of the world are shut out of the opportunity to immigrate to the United States. Our current policies discourage diversity in the immigration flow.

Rational fixes to our legal immigration system are available, but are opposed by narrow interests that benefit politically or economically from the status quo. Moreover, ideas for reforming the legal immigration system are not new. They were first offered by a blue ribbon commission appointed by President Clinton in the 1990s, chaired by the noted civil rights leader, Barbara Jordan. Leaders of both parties endorsed the commission’s recommendations.

Currently there are bills in both houses of Congress to end family chain migration and replace it with a smaller merit-based system. The Senate Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act, S.1720, and the House Securing America’s Future Act, H.R. 4760, would replace our failed and bloated nepotistic immigration system with one that promotes national interests, fairness, and diversity. According to a February 2018 national poll conducted by Harvard University and the Harris Polling Company, a merit-based immigration system is supported by 84 percent or registered voters, including 75 percent of registered Democrats. Support cuts across all racial and ethnic lines.

In addition to broad support from the American public, President Trump has endorsed these long overdue fixes to our legal immigration process. The opportunity to fix our broken legal immigration policy is now.