Good News: Government Nibbles Away, a Bit, at Chain Migration

By David North, August 30, 2012

In two totally unrelated actions, the government has limited two different elements of chain migration. One is birth tourism and the other is an attempt to stretch a green card by marriage into two green cards.

Chain migration comes when, after granting a green card to, say, Betty X, she decides later to call for the admission of her son, Bob X, who is an otherwise inadmissable alien. Time passes, Bob moves to the United States and later marries another otherwise inadmissable alien, who becomes Becky X; time passes again, and Becky … you get the idea.

Another variation of chain migration is the power of a young citizen, 21 years after his or her birth in the States, to ask for the admission of his alien birth parents, and perhaps other relatives.

Family migration provisions of the immigration law, particularly the unlimited admissions of immediate relatives of citizens, facilitate these chains; and often the admissions are not singletons, but bunches of family members. Family migration not only produces large numbers of legal migrants, it lowers the educational average within the immigration stream because, on average, family members have less education, and lower incomes than worker or investor migrants.

So it is heartening when this government decides to nip one or more of those chains before they can spread further. I am not sure that there is anything especially unattractive about the specific aliens involved in these two specific cases — one of whom is an infant — but blocking a little chain migration is generally both a good thing and a rare thing.

One of these positive stories emerged in an extremely unlikely place for such, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), a U.S. territory just north of Guam and once the location of dozens of nonimmigrant-staffed garment sweat shops. A few years ago Congress belatedly transferred control of immigration from the perpetually corrupt CNMI government and gave it to the feds.

The hero of this CNMI story is what I suspect to be a young ICE investigator, probably locally recruited into government service. I also guess that this is his first big case, and that it touches on chain migration is a lucky accident, not a burst of sense on the part of this administration. The matter came to the government's attention, as so often is the case, only after a dispute broke out among the co-conspirators.

As background, the United States, bowing to the local governments of the islands involved, and their not-too-sturdy tourism industries, created a special Guam and CNMI-only visa waiver arrangement, known as a parole, for people from mainland China. They can come to those islands — but not further into the United States — for up to 45 days without getting a visa. Further, if a child is born in either jurisdiction, it becomes an instant U.S. citizen.

I have spent time (while a federal employee) in both jurisdictions and while a few days in either can be pleasant, I would be hard pressed to urge anyone to take a 45-day vacation there. But the tourist industry wanted 45-day visas and got them.

Meanwhile, as noted in the CNMI press and in one of our CIS blogs, there is a modest birth-tourism industry there, playing on the closeness of the islands to China, and the desire of many prosperous Chinese families to give their infants a splendid, life-time gift: a U.S. passport. To the best of my knowledge, up to now, neither the federal government nor the CNMI's has done much to discourage this activity; after all, as far as the local officials are concerned, it brings multi-millions of dollars a year to the islands' struggling economy.

Enter the diligent junior ICE investigator, Michael Lansangan (he has a Filipino name, as do many people in Guam and CNMI), and the law-breaker in the piece, Kuanyi Chen, a Taiwanese national and a resident of Saipan. Chen, according to the criminal complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands late in August, was accused of "harboring and encouraging illegal entry of an alien".

Chen did this, according to the complaint, as a result of his work "involved in the recruitment and facilitation of travel, housing, and other services for citizens of the PRC who travel to Saipan from China for the purpose of giving birth to United States citizen children."

The alleged crime, however, was in the "harboring" of the alien mother, illegally in the United States because she arrived on a 45-day visa and stayed beyond the limit, not because of the birth of the child.

ICE got wind of this when Youli Xu, a B-1/B-2 visa holder in legal status, and husband to a pregnant visa-abuser, Rongin Gao, both customers of Chen, complained to an unidentified agency that Chen had cheated and victimized the couple. Among other things, Chen told his female clients not to go out until 7:00 at night because their pregnancy might lead to their arrest as illegal aliens. That worry of Chen's suggests a more assertive ICE enforcement presence than I would expect.

In any event, the case was turned over to the dutiful Lansangan who started gaining the confidence of Xu, and tracking Chen and his other clients. The agent tells in a lengthy (24-page) complaint exactly what he, the investigator, saw during the surveillance to support the harboring charges. He watched Chen carrying an infant (not further identified) and taking people to a restaurant, and once, delivering a bag of rice. Chen also provided much technical assistance on how to skirt the immigration law, according to Xu, and made on-island housing arrangements.

Meanwhile, Xu, the whistleblower, was using his tablet computer to take photographs of Chen and his colleagues. For further details of Chen's alleged activities, users of PACER, the federal courts' electronic data system, can read the complaint, which is document 1, case 1:12-cr-00026 in the CNMI court. There was also an Associated Press story.

Xu might be seen as something of an ingrate. He paid Chen all of $400 for his services, and out of that Chen paid a one-night hotel bill of more than $100; Xu was to pay Chen $400 more after the baby was born. The total, $800, strikes me as a very modest payment for so much work, illicit though it was.

The complaint also indicates that there is a substantial amount of information on the Internet about how to go to Saipan to have a baby who becomes an instant citizen.

The first part of the complaint, incidentally, tells us that the investigator has been doing this kind of work for a little over a year; the length of his statement, in contrast to the much leaner ones that a reader sees in other, similar cases, suggests an enthusiastic rookie. Agent Lansangan is an ICE investigator who should be encouraged to keep up the good work!

* * *

Meanwhile, thousands of miles away in Washington, D.C., the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), an arm of the Justice Department, issued a decision that also had a small, negative impact on chain migration.

This involved the daughter of an alien fiancee of an American citizen wanting to double the number of green cards issued because of her mother's marriage to the U.S. citizen.

Her mother had a K-3 nonimmigrant visa because she was engaged to an American; that visa morphed into conditional resident status for the mother at the time of the marriage, back in 2005, and if all went well, two years later it became a green card. (Whether this happened, we do not know; it was not in the decision.)

The daughter, who had a K-4 visa (granted to her as daughter to a K-3 holder), tried to adjust from K-4 to green card status, but her mother had not married the citizen at a time to make that happen, the marriage having taken place when Mahvash Akram, a national of Pakistan, was 18 years old.

The BIA ruled that you have to be less than 18 to be regarded as a step-child of a U.S. citizen, and thus eligible for a green card. So despite the fact that she had a now-expired K-4 visa, despite the fact that her mother has a conditional resident card or, more likely, a green card, and that her step-father is a citizen, she remains in illegal status, and the BIA, on August 1, gave her voluntary departure status and 60 days to leave the country.

We probably will never know if she actually leaves as ordered.

So, two tiny nibbles at the mighty flow of chain migration.