Explaining 'Chain Migration' Or 'Family Reunification' President Trump wants an end of "chain migration" policy, replacing it with a "merit-based" immigration policy. NPR's Lulu Garcia Navarro discusses with Stanford professor Tomas Jimenez.

Explaining 'Chain Migration' Or 'Family Reunification'

Explaining 'Chain Migration' Or 'Family Reunification'

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President Trump wants an end of "chain migration" policy, replacing it with a "merit-based" immigration policy. NPR's Lulu Garcia Navarro discusses with Stanford professor Tomas Jimenez.


And now to an issue that is at the center of the current partisan divide in Washington - immigration. The president and his supporters would like sweeping changes to America's legal immigration system. In particular, the president has said he would like to scrap the current system based on the reunification of families - what the president calls chain migration.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Chain migration that costs taxpayers billions and billions of dollars and sanctuary cities that set free violent, criminal aliens all over our country and protect them.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We are now joined by Tomas Jimenez, an associate professor of sociology at Stanford who studies immigration. Welcome to the program.

TOMAS JIMENEZ: Thanks for having me, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So the president believes basing immigration policy on family reunification is bad for the country. But is there a case for it?

JIMENEZ: Well, you know, my grandfather who came from Mexico used to say, tell me who you walk with, and I'll tell you who you are. And I think you can say something similar about immigration policy. Show me your immigration policy, and I'll tell you who you are. And so we've had an immigration policy that is based largely on family reunification. And it's a policy that says that we as a nation value families being together, that we value families staying together. Proposing to have an immigration policy based more on formal skilling is not absurd. I mean, it's an immigration policy that a lot of countries have or at least...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Canada, Australia.

JIMENEZ: Exactly. Exactly. And if we choose to go that route, our children and our grandchildren will tell a very different story about what it means to be American. Looking backward, the story that we tell is that we're not just a nation of immigrants. We're a nation of underdogs. The story of a German immigrant who comes here as a barber, and his grandson is today the president of the United States. And so the president himself could write his own family story into that narrative, as could mine.

If we choose to move to a system based more on formal skilling, you know, I think what it says is we want to be a nation of overdogs, a nation of people who have made it someplace else, and we cherry-pick them after the fact. And, again, it's not necessarily better or worse. It's just a radically different idea of American identity written into our immigration policy.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I've covered immigration and met migrants with family in the United States. And anecdotally, I've seen them talk about how they do better because they have someone to help them navigate the country, initially provide help with employment and other needs. Do studies support that - that people coming into this country that have connections here do better?

JIMENEZ: Absolutely. You know, an immigrant comes here and then brings over their family members and ultimately creates a community. The kind of anchoring set of migrants will help subsequent migrants find housing, find jobs, help them feel like they have a cultural home. And that has actually been true for as long as we've had migration to the United States.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, we should clarify that, broadly speaking, there is bipartisan support for naturalized citizens to bring in their spouses and their minor children. So you'd be able to bring in your husband or your wife. But the question, I think, is, should they be able to bring in their adult siblings and their adult married children?

JIMENEZ: You know, I think there is a reasonable case to be made that we could potentially do away with bringing over adult siblings or adult parents and that we could, in fact, privilege a system that favors bringing over minor children and spouses.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I know that you've studied what the American public thinks about our system of immigration. What are the attitudes, and how do we see ourselves as a country?

JIMENEZ: Well, you know, I get concerned that we often pay attention to the loudest voices and the biggest events when we gauge what the country thinks about immigration. And if you look at national polling, the United States as a whole is pretty accommodating when they consider immigration. A majority of Americans wants the current level of immigration to either be kept the same, or they want more migrants.

A majority of Americans do not want a wall on the southern border. Large majority of Americans want a mass legalization program. And one poll in particular - if you let respondents know that migrants would pay back taxes, that they would learn English and pass a background check - criminal background check - 90 percent of Americans would favor a legalization program under those circumstances. A majority of Americans are more concerned that immigration enforcement is going too far than that it's not going far enough.

Some of the proposals that are coming out of Washington and particularly out of the White House are just wildly out of step with the way that Americans are thinking about immigration. Americans across the land are adjusting to new populations living among them, just as those new populations are getting used to living in a new land. And it turns out that, on the whole, those two parties are figuring out how to get along.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tomas Jimenez joins us from Stanford University, where he is a faculty affiliate at the center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity. Thank you very much.

JIMENEZ: Thank you.


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