In recent times, “chain migration” has become a pejorative term in the context of comprehensive immigration reform and family reunification.
"Chain migration" has traditionally meant the process by which immigrants tend to follow members of a similar town, ethnic or cultural group to a particular community established by such members in a new homeland. Today, critics of our current immigration system and the comprehensive immigration reform bill passed by the Senate last year use the term negatively--to warn against serial migration or the surge of immigration of extended, non-nuclear family members, particulary lesser skilled immigrants. However, the connotation that each U.S. citizen or green card holder (lawful permanent resident) can send for “every blood relative” or that the Senate bill facilitates "chain migration" is simply not true.
First, under the current U.S. immigration system, not every relative can be sponsored for a green card. For example, uncles, aunts, cousins and grandparents are not eligible for green cards through family-sponsored immigration. Only parents, spouses, children and siblings of U.S. Citizens and spouses and children of green card holders (lawful permanent residents) are eligible. Second, of those family members, only spouses, unmarried children under 21 and parents of U.S. citizens may be sponsored for a green card without being subject to any quota or “waiting in line”. Everyone else is subject to certain annual numerical caps to keep immigration numbers in check.
The comprehensive immigration reform bill passed by the Senate last year further restricts family-sponosred immigration by eliminating the ability of U.S. citizens to sponsor their siblings and adult children over the age of 30. In addition, it establishes a merit-based point system whereby intending immigrants can accumulate points (for English language proficiency, education and skills, in addition to having U.S. citizen family members), towards getting a green card.
Family reunification has always been, and should continue to be, a cornerstone of our immigration system. But how we define that “family” is just as important too.