What “Chain Migration” really means — and Why Donald Trump Hates it so Much

“Family-based immigration” doesn’t sound as scary — or get at the fear of losing control.

Over the course of President Donald Trump’s first year in office, his administration’s top immigration priority has shifted subtly. He’s talking less about deporting “bad hombres” and talking more — a lot more — about how “chain migration” is bad for the United States.

“We have to get rid of chainlike immigration, we have to get rid of the chain,” Trump told the New York Times’s Mike Schmidt in an impromptu interview at his West Palm Beach golf club in December. He followed it up, as he does, with a tweet:

“Chain migration” — which is loosely used as a synonym for all immigration to the United States that happens based on family ties (when a US citizen or, in some cases, a green card holder petitions for a relative to join them) — has become a conservative boogeyman, and an excuse to cut down on legal immigration. It’s long been a target of immigration restrictionists whose concerns about immigration are less about people “respecting the law” than about the government exercising stricter control over who enters the country.

Under the Trump administration, those restrictionists have more political power than they’ve had in a generation — and they’re using it to prosecute an aggressive case against the family-based system as it stands.

The Trump administration’s attacks on “chain migration” have helped shift the terms of the debate over immigration policy. “Chain migration” is being invoked, among other things, to frame two totally different demands Republicans have made in the debate over legalizing immigrants temporarily covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program: preventing current DACA recipients from sponsoring their parents after becoming citizens, and cutting or eliminating some categories of family-based immigration for all immigrants in exchange for legalizing DACA enrollees.

By Dara Lind for VOX
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