As recently as last week, a deal appeared possible that would restore or even expand protections for DREAMers — a group of undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children — while also including undetermined measures to increase “border security.”
Friday morning, however, President Donald Trump may have blown up this burgeoning deal by adding new, very aggressive demands.
Trump’s demands closely track those of white nationalist groups who oppose many forms of lawful immigration and wish to restrict methods often used by non-white immigrants.
Last September, Trump announced that he would end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an Obama-era program that allowed approximately 800,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children to receive work permits and remain in the country. Trump, however, delayed termination of this program — current DACA beneficiaries will start to lose their protections in March — and initially appeared open to a legislative solution that would restore benefits to people on DACA.
Now, however, Trump is demanding a fundamental overhaul of much of the nation’s immigration system as the price of a DACA fix.
“Chain migration,” which Trump refers to in his tweet, is a derogatory term used to describe the way that family members of current U.S. residents are permitted to immigrate into the United States. Under current law, a U.S. citizen may petition to allow their immediate relatives — spouses, children, and parents — to immigrate to the U.S. More distant relatives, such as the brothers and sisters of citizens, may also sometimes be admitted, although they are restricted by a quota. Lawful permanent residents may also petition on behalf of their spouses and certain children, but these immigrants are also subject to a quota.
This family-based immigration system was introduced by the landmark Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which repealed a quota system based on the national origin of immigrants. That old quota system “was designed to favor Western and Northern European countries and drastically limit admission of immigrants from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Southern and Eastern Europe,” according to the Migration Policy Institute.
Restricting so-called “chain migration” would disproportionately impact Latinos and people of Asian origin, who are likely to be recent immigrants and therefore more likely to have close relatives outside the United States.
Meanwhile, the “ridiculous Lottery System of Immigration” that Trump references in his tweet most likely refers to the Diversity Visa Immigrant Program, which allows up to 50,000 people a year to immigrate to the United States from nations that are currently underrepresented in the U.S. population — a system that disproportionately benefits African immigrants.
Both family-based immigration and diversity visas are targeted by the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act, a bill co-sponsored by Sens. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and David Perdue (R-GA) that the White House supports.
This bill, and its broader agenda of limiting methods of immigration that are often used by non-white immigrants, won praise from white nationalists when it was introduced.
Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, told ThinkProgress that RAISE would be “a major step toward rationalizing and modernizing the federal immigration program.” Krikorian’s organization is part of a web of groups founded by John Tanton, who wrote in 1993 that “I’ve come to the point of view that for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.”
Travis Hale, a writer and self-described “Alt Right Evangelist,” praised Trump last month for placing “chain migration” on the national agenda. According to Hale, Trump helped elevate what was once a “niche topic” discussed only by a handful of white nationalist figures.
According to the liberal watchdog group Media Matters, the first individual Hale mentions, Jared Taylor, is “publisher of the white nationalist magazine American Renaissance.” Peter Brimelow is “founder of the white nationalist anti-immigration site VDare.com.”
After the white nationalist site Breitbart reported that “President Donald Trump’s administration has launched a public campaign to push the Republican-controlled Congress to uphold the White House’s pro-immigration agenda by ending extended-family immigration into the United States,” Brimelow’s VDare site published a piece effusively praising this effort.
“Wow, can this really be?” Allan Wall wrote for VDare. “Is a sitting U.S. presidential administration actually launching a campaign to end our nepotistic system of chain migration?”
With Friday’s tweet, Trump appears to be doing far more than launching a campaign. He appears to be holding hundreds of thousands of immigrants hostage to pressure Congress into enacting an agenda favored by white nationalists.