Don’t Call It “Chain Migration”!

As part of the ongoing negotiations on what to do with 700,000 illegal immigrants who’ve been protected by Obama’s executive amnesty (“DACA”), the Trump White House is pushing to end so-called “chain migration.”** That’s the ability of legalized immigrants to bring in, not just their immediate families but their brothers and the families of their married children—who then get to bring in their extended families, who then get to start the process all over again, until entire villages have moved here. “[D]o you really want to have policy in place where the entrance of an immigrant provides a path for the entrance of the immigrant’s wife’s sister’s husband’s parents?” Probably not.***

Chain migration has surged since the 1990s. Most of our milion-a-year legal immigrants are now these “family reunification” immigrants who come here almost as a matter of right. In time, 700,000 amnestied DACAns would become several million as their relatives arrive. Maybe there are other, more skilled immigrants we’d prefer to let in? Maybe we’d like to lower the overall immigration influx for a few years to let our labor market tighten and produce a significant wage hike? That’s Trump’s point.

The trouble is, “chain migration” isn’t an easy concept to get across. It’s a metaphor for the long-run after-effect of a complicated law. But it doesn’t, in iteself, tell listeners what’s so bad about it. You got a problem with chains? Frank Luntz would not approve this messaging. ****

There’s an easier, instantly comprehensible way to sell the same essential policy. What if  President Trump said:

I call on Congress to enact an immediate 5-year moratorium on our current mandatory immigration by extended family members--brothers and in laws and uncles and cousins. This pause would not apply to immediate family members–if you are here legally you could stil bring in your wife and your children, of course. But not your whole village!

The pause would allow our labor market to catch up to where it was when wages were rising. Remember that? The American people, not just people from other countries who’ve recently arrived, would regain control over who gets in.

When the five-year pause ends we can easily decide to resume what I call “mandatory clan immigration”– cousin immigration, run-on in-law-immigration — or admit different immigrants in equivalent or lower or greater numbers — if that’s what the people want.

You get the idea. Immigration mavens understand what  “chain migration” means. But everyone understands what a moratorium is.***** That it only applies to one category of immigrants — semi-distant relatives — doesn’t make it less comprehensible. It’s an idea Trump could sell, at least to his base, which may be almost all he needs in the coming DACA negotiations.******


** — Why would  curbing “chain mig–” …sorry, I mean “mandatory clan immigration” become the favored reform to trade for DACA protection? One answer: it seems to be the immigration-control measure that’s least unpalatable to the existing illegal immigrant lobby, including the DACAns. For example, mandating a computerized system of checking the legality of new hires (“E-Verify”) might take away the magnet for much illegal immigration — it would be a big reform. But it might prevent illegals who are already here from switching jobs. The lobby doesn’t like that. More money for ICE — something else mentioned as a possible trade for a DACA amnesty — means more deportations for current illegals. Ending mandatory clan migration doesn’t threaten that kind of harm to anyone who’s already here. (Trump’s border wall would actually be even less threatening–it only prevents future illegal immigration, doesn’t deport anybody, doesn’t prevent legal immigrants from bringing in their in-laws. But Democrats are too committed to blocking Trump’s wall to recognize the self-interest of even their own lobbies.)

*** — This extended family immigration wasn’t part of our law until 1965, when it was included in a big immigration bill as a misguided sop to conservatives (who wrongly thought it would allow Europeans to bring in other Europeans).

****– Even calling it “migration” works against Trump’s message. “Migration” seems like an inevitable, natural process. Birds migrate. “Immigration” seems less natural — which is more accurate.

***** — Trump proposed a general “pause” on issuing  new green cards as part of his initial immigration plan in August, 2015.  A 10-year moritorium on all immigration is a key prescription of  Ann Coulter’s Adios America!. Even Arianna Huffington once advocated a pause, apparently.

****** — The power of the base lies largely in its ability to pressure GOP House members who are terrified of primary challenges or election-day defections (and who know, from the examples of Eric Cantor and Luther Strange, that they can’t rely on establishment dollars to save them). Also, if Trump’s first immigration bill is an amnesty for 700,000 illegals (with a little window-dressing funding for the border thrown in) there will be a firestorm that might leave the President supportless heading into 2018 and 2020, not to mention possible impeachment proceedings.