On Ending Chain Migration, Senate Grade is an F

February 20, 2018 | Joe Guzzardi

Last week, the United States Senate – allegedly the world’s greatest deliberative body – proved that, on immigration if nothing else, it can’t get out of its own way.

The Senate voted down four of four immigration amendments, three of which would have granted amnesty to illegal immigrants. After the Senate failed to reach an immigration agreement, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that, finally, the upper chamber would move on to other business. The immigration debate now shifts back to the House where more chaos is guaranteed.

Immigration analysts who hoped that the Senate would make meaningful strides toward eliminating chain migration, population growth’s biggest driver, came away disappointed. Although President Trump has repeatedly identified ending chain migration as one of his most important immigration goals, the amendment he supported would have kept it rolling, and then some.

Here are excerpts from the bill of Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and John Conyers (R-Texas), Secure and Succeed Act of 2018, that President Trump favored: “Grandfathers all immigrants who are waiting in line for a pending family based petition. Allows parents of U.S. citizens (approximately 150,000 per year) to receive non-immigrant visas to enter the United States for a renewable 5-year period. Visas do not provide a work authorization.”

These provisions do nothing to end chain migration, and some might instead accelerate it. First, grandfathering those prospective immigrants means a huge spike in immigration totals. A Government Accountability Office report showed that from 2006 through 2015, the backlog has more than doubled. At the start of FY 2006, with 212,000 cases, the median pending time for those cases was 198 days, to 437,000 pending cases at the start of FY 2015, when the median pending time reached 404 days. In 2017, the federal government approved 542,370 family-based visas.

Moreover, as of November 2017, about four million foreign nationals who had been sponsored by a U.S. relative were on the State Department’s waiting list for family-based immigrant visas. The Grassley amendment would admit all four million.

Second, issuing five-year, renewable non-immigrant visas to U.S. citizens’ parents is problematic. Parents can already enter the U.S. at will on a B-2 tourist visa, but with a six-month maximum duration of stay. Since the visa overstay rate is about 40 percent, creating a new visa with a five-year duration invites more immigration and more overstays. In 2016, 740,000 visa holders overstayed.

Finally, although it’s not related to chain migration, the Secure and Succeed Act’s condition that “visas [for parents] do not provide a work authorization” must be viewed skeptically. Historically, H-4s, the immediate family members of H-1B visa holders, were not issued employment authorization documents. But President Obama’s 2015 executive order allowed H-4s to work, and more than 100,000 are employed today.

That the Senate and the White House have so little understanding of, or interest in, the link between chain migration and U.S. population dynamics frustrates Americans who want sustainability.

Princeton University researchers found that immigrants who arrived in the 1996 to 2000 wave sponsored an average of 3.46 additional family members for admission, more than double the rate of those who were admitted in the previous 10 years.

Not only did the Senate punt on chain migration, it also stalled on eliminating the visa lottery, another population driver that admits 50,000 immigrants annually who can then petition their families. Despite U.S. Census Bureau projections that an immigration status quo will bring the nation’s total residents to 450 million by 2050, the only consensus the Senate arrived at was that chain migration-driven population growth is unimportant, an irresponsible conclusion that disregards Americans’ futures.

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