'Chain migration': Who is (and isn't) allowed in?

FILE - In this Feb. 8, 2017 file photo, Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos is locked in a van that is stopped in the street by protesters outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in Phoenix. (Rob Schumacher/The Arizona Republic via AP, File)

For over 50 years, the United States immigration system has been based mainly on family ties after Lyndon Johnson signed the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act.

President Donald Trump is seeking to change that. He wants to end what he calls “chain migration,” or family-based immigration, and instead let immigrants in on the basis of merit.

“The overwhelming majority of immigration is the only real standard: ‘are you related to somebody who lives here?’ We think we need to widen the scope of what we’re looking at so it serves the American security and economic interests," said Raj Shah, White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary.

Currently, U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents can sponsor relatives to come to America.

“It builds this large group or chain that links people together to allow them to sponsor different family members," said Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute.

There are two categories of family-based immigrant visas. One allows citizens to bring in their immediate family, which includes their spouses, children, and parents.

“If you’re an immigrant yourself you cannot sponsor your third- cousin once removed -- there's not a category for that,” said Nowrasteh.

The other category covers family-preference visas, which are capped to about 226,000 per year. It allows citizens to bring in the families of children, spouses, and siblings. Green card holders can bring in their children and spouses.

“Theoretically by sponsoring your siblings, and your parents, and then your parents sponsor their siblings, and then sponsored their children, who then sponsored their relatives, etc. maybe over the course of about a century or maybe even longer, distant relatives like that would be able to come into the United States lawfully, but there is no cousin visa,"Nowrasteh said .

The administration argues the system is overwhelming the United States. Asian Americans Advancing Justice says that notion is false and the system is made to keep families together.

“Chain migration dehumanizes people." said John C. Yang, president and executive director of AAJC.

He adds, "to suggest that there’s just a string or a wave of immigrants coming across and that they are sort of unchecked -- no security in place to vet these people -- is absolutely not the case,"

The Department of Homeland Security believes chain migration does carry some risk, and recently cited family visas granted to suspects in three recent terrorism cases.

Yang says that suggestion is wrong.

"Family immigration does not pose a danger there is quite sufficient vetting for anybody who comes into the United States,” he said.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are trying to hammer out a immigration reform deal that also includes fixing DACA (Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals) program. The president maintains any agreement for so-called Dreamers must include funding for a border wall.

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