If Congress and the president don’t reach an immigration deal in the next two months, more than 690,000 young DACA recipients will lose their temporary work permits and protections from deportation. Nobody wants to see that happen. Most of these young people were brought to this country through no fault of their own, and they relied on President Obama’s executive actions.
We have great sympathy for these young men and women, and we have an opportunity now to pass legislation that protects them and prevents similar uncertainty in the future. However, hastily passing a clean bill that doesn’t solve the underlying problem will only encourage more illegal immigration and is no way to accomplish this goal.
Any steps we take to address the status of DACA recipients must be structured to prevent this same legal limbo down the road. That’s why any meaningful immigration deal must, among other things, put an end to chain migration.
Chain migration is one of the biggest problems in our immigration system today. Current law allows legal permanent residents and American citizens to sponsor both their immediate and extended family members for immigration to the United States. In other words, our system prioritizes people based on their family ties, instead of their ability to contribute to our nation’s economic well-being. For some categories, like spouses, minor children, elderly and disabled parents, this makes sense. Family is the bedrock of our society, and immediate families should be together.
But unlike other advanced industrialized countries, our nation also gives preferences to the extended family members of citizens. While well intentioned, this policy has had some unfortunate consequences. This policy has spurred a wave of mostly unskilled immigration into our country. Today, only one in 15 of the more than 1 million immigrants who are admitted every year are given a visa because of their job skills or entrepreneurial ability. The other 14 immigrants are admitted without regard to their skills. That means that every year we are admitting hundreds of thousands of workers with almost no consideration for the impact their immigration will have on American jobs and wages. That is one of the reasons why polling has shown that over 70 percent of Americans favor limiting chain migration to only the spouses and minor children of legal permanent residents and citizens.
This policy puts downward pressure on the wages of people who toil with their hands, who work on their feet. Americans with high school-level educations have seen their wages fall by 2 percent since the 1970s, while inflation has made the cost of living even higher. For Americans who haven’t finished high school, it’s even worse. Their wages have fallen by nearly 20 percent.
This trend will only get worse if Congress grants legal status to DACA recipients without ending chain migration. Simply doing this without changing our nation’s immigration laws will encourage low-skilled parents from around the world to illegally immigrate to this country with their small children in hopes of obtaining citizenship. And once they and their children receive citizenship, other extended family members will follow, continuing a never-ending cycle of falling wages and mass migration.
That’s why it’s imperative that any final bill eliminate the preferences for extended family members. This change can help avert the adverse economic repercussions.
Several of our colleagues have recently suggested that any fix to chain migration should only eliminate immigration preferences for a very narrow category of individuals: the adult, unmarried children of legal permanent residents. But such a limited change to immigration preferences wouldn’t even end chain migration for this category of individuals. It would merely delay it.
We support policy that is pro-family, pro-growth, and pro-legal immigration. But we cannot let an opportunity to adopt a more worker-focused policy pass us by. Doing so only guarantees that we will be forced to address this very same issue at a later date. And in the meantime, American workers will bear the brunt of our inaction.
The only way to start that process, and to stop the influx of low-skilled immigrants, is to end chain migration. This change is crucial, and any immigration deal must include it.
Cotton and Perdue introduced the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act. Grassley is chairman of the Judiciary Committee.