President Trump introduced his proposal for immigration reform with references to gang violence, terrorism and drug trafficking during the State of the Union address.
The “four pillars” of his immigration plan are necessary to “protect Americans,” according to the president. Those pillars include: increasing border security, ending extended-family chain migration, eliminating the visa lottery and legalizing 1.8 million undocumented immigrants, including Dreamers—undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as minors.
The president appeared to be defending the four-pillar plan, which has been met with criticism from both Republicans and Democrats. While church leaders strongly support the legalization of Dreamers, they condemn an end to so-called “chain migration.” Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president of Catholic Charities USA, said it was “disturbing” that the legalization of Dreamers would “come at the expense of dividing families.”
President Trump introduced his proposal for immigration reform with references to gang violence, terrorism and drug trafficking.
“It is deeply problematic that political leaders are increasingly referring to family-based migration as ‘chain migration.’ Families aren’t chains,” she said in a Jan. 29 statement. “They are mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, grandmothers, grandfathers and brothers and sisters.”
In his State of the Union address, the president said “a single immigrant can bring in a virtually unlimited number of distant relatives” through family-based immigration.
“It’s a myth,” said Kevin Appleby, senior director of international migration policy for the Center for Migration Studies of New York, calling the ending of family-based migration the equivalent of “a family ban.”
“Families aren’t chains. They are mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, grandmothers, grandfathers and brothers and sisters.”
“Technically, you could get an extended family member in, but it would take a few generations for that to happen,” he said in an interview with America. “It’s really misleading to think of it as a chain, that it somehow happens quickly. It’s unrealistic that it happens at all.”
Due to backlogs in the immigration system, along with country quotas that already exist, it can take more than 20 years for a family-based petition to go through. There are currently four million people waiting on a family-based immigration petition.
“Immigration opponents have used this kind of language to mislead and reframe the immigration debate in harsh terms,” Mr. Appleby said, noting how the term “amnesty,” which denotes forgiveness, has become a “dirty word” in the immigration debate. “It’s had an impact on public opinion.”
The president seemed to insinuate that immigrants, once they become citizens, would be able to petition for their cousins, aunts and uncles. Yet petitions are actually filed for spouses, children, parents and siblings. Theoretically, a child could petition for a parent, who could in turn petition for a sibling. But that process would take 20 to 40 years.
“Immigration opponents have used this kind of language to mislead and reframe the immigration debate in harsh terms.”
While Mr. Trump claimed merit-based immigration would help U.S. citizens, Mr. Appleby noted that family-based immigration actually helps the economy.
“We’re the largest economy in the world—we need workers of all skill levels,” Mr. Appleby said. “Families aren’t static. They start businesses and are entrepreneurs. They take care of their members.”
Ashley Feasley, director of migration policy and public affairs at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, described the change in terminology as “an attack on legal family-based immigration by the Congress and the White House.” She sees it as an attempt to undermine the contributions of immigrants to the United States.
“It’s really important that we remember we’re talking about people who, in many cases, have spent years waiting due to our broken immigration system,” Ms. Feasley said.
“Families aren’t static. They start businesses and are entrepreneurs. They take care of their members.”
The U.S. bishops have also supported the diversity visa, referred to as the visa lottery by Mr. Trump in his address. The president justified ending the diversity visa lottery program as a response to “the age of terrorism.”
While the church supports a sovereign nation’s right to defend its borders, Ms. Feasley said, “we need to be careful about allocating funds in a way that’s humane and proportionate.” Closing legal paths of entry for asylum seekers and unaccompanied minors, something the president referred to as “closing loopholes,” is not humane.
Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin, Tex., chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, called family immigration “part of the bedrock of our country and of our church.”
“Upholding and protecting the family unit, regardless of its national origins, is vital to our faith,” he said in a statement released ahead of the State of the Union address. “In searching for a solution for Dreamers, we must not turn our backs on the vulnerable. We should not...barter the well-being of unaccompanied children for the well-being of the Dreamers. We know them all to be children of God who need our compassion and mercy.”
Bishop Vásquez urged Congress to pass a bipartisan solution soon.
“Time is of the essence,” he said. “Elected officials must show leadership to quickly enact legislation that provides for our security and is humane, proportionate and just.”