How the White House's Immigration Reforms Might Backfire

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tags: immigration, Trump



Tom Gjelten is a correspondent for National Public Radio. He is the author of "A Nation of Nations: A Great American Immigration Story."

... The key lesson of the 1965 reforms is that social engineering through the adjustment of immigration policy is no simple matter—and almost any such effort will produce dramatic, unintended consequences.

The 1965 Act overturned a longstanding policy of allocating immigrant visas on the basis of national origin, whereby people from northern and western Europe were given highly preferential treatment over those from southern and eastern Europe, the Mediterranean, Africa, or Asia. Once people of all backgrounds were given a roughly equal opportunity to move to the United States, the flow of immigrants changed dramatically.

At the time the Act was passed, arriving immigrants were almost entirely white and European. Fifty years later, nine of 10 newcomers were from outside Europe, and—to the consternation of Miller and other immigration critics—their share of the American population was nearing an all-time high. ...

The proposed legislation would eliminate all family sponsorship beyond spouses and minor children and thus theoretically end the phenomenon of “chain migration,” which Miller defined as what happens when someone sponsors a relative “who can bring in a relative who can bring in a relative.”

The priority instead would be immigrants who score “points” as a result of their ability to speak English, their income prospects, and their marketable job skills. During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump promised to select immigrants “based on their likelihood of success in U.S. society” and their ability “to successfully assimilate.”

Ironically, the original version of the 1965 law had a similar goal, favoring immigrants with skills considered “especially advantageous” to the United States. The priorities were changed, because critics feared that a merit-based system would open the gates to a more diverse immigrant population and thus change the demographic character of the United States.

The provision that Cotton and Perdue are targeting—family sponsorship—was ironically intended as a bulwark against that prospect. The assumption was that amending the law to favor those who already had relatives in the country would produce an immigrant population that matched the racial and ethnic profile of the existing U.S. population. The American Legion, which had fiercely defended a policy preferential to northern and western Europeans, supported the 1965 Act only after it was amended with the family unification preference, a feature the Legion saw as “a naturally operating national origin system.”

It was a profound miscalculation. The supporters of a family-based immigration policy failed to recognize that the desire to move to the United States in the second half of the 20th century was concentrated in the developing countries in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. ...






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