The Immigration Debate: Language Matters

The current Administration wants to drastically reduce family-based immigration to the U.S. and replace our current employment-based immigration system with a points-based one, as proposed in the Administration supported RAISE Act.    The Administration is also pushing to drastically cut family based immigration as part of any legislative deal to provide permanent status to those with DACA.

As part of its campaign for these reforms, the Administration uses terms that taint honest debate. First, referring to the proposed points scheme as a “merit-based” system infers that our current system is not already merit-based. In reality, immigrants through employment must meet strict educational and skill requirements. In most cases (with exceptions for immigrants already internationally renowned in their fields), the U.S. employer must prove to the government that the position requires highly specialized skill or professional education and experience, and that the immigrant it wants to hire meets or exceeds the requisite criteria.

Similarly, the Administration is wrong to describe family-based immigration as “chain migration” that floods the U.S. with immigrants’ extended family members.   In reality, immigrants can petition only for their immediate family members. Refugees and asylees can bring only their spouses and children who are unmarried and younger than 21. Permanent residents (“green card” holders), can bring only their spouses and unmarried children of any age.  U.S. citizens can bring, in addition to their spouses and unmarried children, their married children, parents, and siblings – in other words, their immediate family members.  The U.S., in fact, is more restrictive than some other countries.   For example, both Canada and the U.K. allow grandparent immigration, which is not allowed here.

For most of these immediate family members, the U.S. immigration process is punishingly long. For example, as of January 2018, there was a seven year wait for adult (over 21) children of permanent residents to immigrate, and the wait was only slightly shorter for unmarried adult children of U.S. citizens.  Married children of U.S. citizens waited nearly twelve years, and siblings of U.S. citizens waited over 13 years to immigrate. The waiting lists are even longer for certain countries.  A naturalized U.S. citizen originally from the Philippines must wait about 13 years to be reunited with her adult child, about 23 years to be reunited with her married child, and about 24 years to be reunited with her siblings.  A naturalized U.S. citizen from Mexico will wait over 21 years for his unmarried child, over 22 years for his married child, and over 20 years for his sibling to gain residency in the U.S.

The Administration also disparages family-based immigration by implying that these immigrants bring no talents and skills to enrich our economy and workforce. Throughout our recorded history of immigration, that has simply not been the case.   Whether they are Ph.D. researchers, engineers, and entrepreneurs, or caregivers, farm workers, and housekeepers, today’s  immigrants participate in the workforce at higher rates than native-born U.S. citizens, and like generations of immigrants before them, keep our country and our economy growing and vibrant.