In an effort to stop an immigration process pejoratively known as “chain migration,” Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA) introduced the “Nuclear Family Priority Act” in late January to stop U.S. citizens from petitioning their relatives to legally reside in the United States.
As a justification for the bill, Hice claims that one immigrant can pull in some 273 other legal immigrants “based on genetics.” And while Hice is not the first person to float this shockingly high figure, it stands in stark contrast to the actual obstacles of immigrating to the United States.
Since 2007, former Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) has hawked the “273” number to limit legal immigration. At the time, he said that a legal immigrant entering the country could bring in his spouse and minor children. As he reasoned, when the legal immigrant and his wife become citizens, they can then petition for their respective parents and siblings. “And that is where the chain really takes off, because you repeat this over and over again,” Gingrey said on the House floor in 2007. “And at the end of 17 years … and two generations, what you end up with under the insanity of legal chain migration is that one legal permanent resident who was brought into this country as a skilled worker… that one person in a short span of 17 years can bring in 273 people.”
By contrast, a 2006 Princeton study on family-based immigration found that “the average immigrant will bring 2.1 family members to the U.S. as part of the unification process.” In 2011, even Roy Beck, the executive director of the immigration-restrictionist group NumbersUSA that is endorsing the bill, told Politifact that there has been no known instance of any one immigrant bringing in hundreds of relatives. Politifact also found that Jessica Vaughan at the Center for Immigration Studies “is critical of chain migration, but she noted that administrative wait times and quotas can make such large-scale migration difficult. She had not heard of a case where this has happened.”
This is in part because there are a number of onerous obstacles that immigrants encounter when they try to sponsor family members. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services agency stated that Congress limits the number of relatives who can immigrate so there’s usually a long waiting period before an immigrant visa number becomes available.
Laura Lichter, past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, wrote in 2013 that spouses or minor children “historically has faced a two to six year separation before a visa may become available; for adult children, that line can stretch to over two decades.” In one recent example that made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, a woman who was eligible for a visa by way of her aunt waited 21 years to get to the top of the visa waiting list, and then “aged out” because she was no longer a minor and was forced back to the beginning of the line.
The petition for family members also carries a filing fee of $420, which could prove prohibitive for immigrants at a time when the worldwide median household income hovers around $10,000.
Other lawmakers like Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) have argued that family-based immigration would bring in unskilled laborers. But as the President of Asian American Justice Center Mee Moua explained to the senator at the time, those most impacted are immigrant women, 70 percent of whom gain permanent residence through family-based visas as opposed to employment-based visas.
Hice’s bill was introduced with 11 other Republican co-sponsors at a time when bills to institute comprehensive immigration reform — even one piece at a time — have remained perpetually stalled. As the Center for American progress has described the host of problems reforms aim to fix would affect “more than 11 million people are living in the United States without legal status, millions of people are waiting to be reunited with their families, and employers are not able to recruit the foreign-born workers our economy needs.”
Democrats, including President Obama, have stated that they are willing to take on a piecemeal approach so long as the bills address the country’s undocumented population. But Republicans have so far refused to budge, instead insisting on a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funding bill with amendments that roll back on the president’s executive action to help the undocumented population. Democrats have refused to vote through the bill with what they deem to be “poison pill” riders, prompting House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to state Wednesday morning, “The House has done its job. Why don’t you go ask the Senate Democrats when they’re gonna get off their ass and do something other than to vote no.”