The Media Are (Deliberately?) Confused About Chain Migration

Visas for immediate family are different from visas for extended family

By Jason Richwine on May 16, 2019

Attempting to summarize Jared Kushner’s immigration plan, an article in U.S. News mischaracterized chain migration:

…[T]he plan – which is reportedly not final – aims to reconstitute the eligibility criteria for legal immigrants, establishing a more merit-based system and limiting visas given to family members of U.S. residents, a practice widely known among Republicans as "chain migration" and among Democrats as "family reunification."

Wrong. Not all "visas given to family members of U.S. residents" are part of chain migration. Within the broad category of family reunification visas, there is an important distinction between visas for immediate family (spouses and minor children) and extended family (adult siblings and adult sons and daughters).

When immigration restrictionists criticize chain migration, they are criticizing only the extended family visas – which allow, for example, a U.S. citizen to sponsor his adult brother, who brings his wife, who sponsors her sister, and so on. In the case of visas for immediate family members, there is no chain – a man sponsors his wife and minor children, and that is the end of the immediate family links.

By incorrectly defining chain migration, the U.S. News article implies that Kushner and Republicans are against all types of family-based immigration. They are not. It also allows immigration advocates to hide behind a vague "family reunification" position and avoid explaining why they think chain migration is a desirable policy.

Unfortunately, U.S. News is not alone in its confusion. Here's the New York Times on the White House plan:

The proposal, senior administration officials said on Wednesday, would vastly scale back the system of family-based immigration that for decades has allowed immigrants to bring their spouses and children to live with them, the officials said. 

The implication is that the Kushner plan "would vastly scale back" immigration of spouses and minor children. It would not. I strongly suspect that the "spouses and children" segment of that passage is a comment inserted by the reporter, not something the officials said.

Here’s The Week, apparently piggybacking off the Times:

The proposal cuts back on family-based immigration, which lets immigrants bring their children and spouses to the U.S., officials said.

Misleading again.

Writing for CNN yesterday, Jim Acosta and Abby Phillip at least correctly described the Kushner plan, but like U.S. News they do not seem to understand what chain migration is:

...[T]he proposal also is likely to preserve family unification as a principle of the legal immigration system, meaning that immigrants will likely continue to be able to sponsor other immediate family members, helping them obtain legal status in the United States. This is, of course, the very system that Trump has derided as "chain migration."

No, it's not.

These media outlets are probably not intentionally getting the story wrong. Nevertheless, it's hard to avoid the suspicion that their sloppiness is related to their personal biases. Most reporters and editors oppose the Kushner plan, so negative-sounding claims about it don't raise fact-checking alarm bells in their minds. By contrast, reporters will bend over backward to dismiss critiques of a policy they favor. Governed as they are by human nature, members of the Washington press corps acquire as much information as they need to confirm their own preconceptions – but rarely any information beyond that.