The outline of the newly announced White House immigration reform plan includes adopting a merit-based selection system to replace the current system that, since 1965, has been heavily weighted toward extended family entitlement to visas. This shift in priority for new immigrants has been long advocated – most notably by the blue ribbon, national study chaired by former Congresswoman Barbara Jordan (the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform – see https://www.fairus.org/issue/legal-immigration/us-commission-immigration-reform)
Opponents of this proposed shift in immigrant admission have already launched attacks on the new proposal even before the full details have been publicly presented. The attacks allege that it would separate families and would be elitist and discriminate people who have not had as much opportunity to gain high-skilled credentials. These arguments play on the widespread, but erroneous, belief that U.S. policy is enshrined in the Emma Lazarus poem that includes, “give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses,,,”
The outline of the new reform proposal makes clear that it is extended family visas that are targeted, not visas for nuclear family members. The difference is that, under the White House outline, a legal immigrant may sponsor a spouse and minor children but there will be no automatic entitlement to sponsor siblings, and through them other extended family members. This was also the recommendation of the Jordan Commission.
In the far past, immigration of healthy unskilled workers made sense as the country was settled coast to coast and the industrial revolution began. But that epoch ended long ago.
The current system was adopted when those petitioning for their extended family members to join them had themselves qualified for a visa based on work or academic experience. The irrationality of family chain migration became even more obvious with the amnesty for illegal aliens enacted in 1986 that gave legal status to nearly three million aliens who in most cases had sneaked into the country, or who had come to do seasonal agricultural work and stayed illegally. This change meant that increasingly those sponsored for family visas had low skill and educational credentials. This change has been continuously compounded since that amnesty with additional amnesty provisions.
The time for change is overdue.