Family-sponsored immigration, which grants preferred status to green card applicants from relatives of American immigrants, has long been villainized by far-right radicals. They see a single immigrant as the spear tip of a teeming mass of anonymous foreigners who would sap the vitality from the American economy. They call this phenomenon “chain migration.” A better phrase is “legal immigration.”
My father grew up in postwar Italy as an only child raised by a single mother. After becoming a citizen, he sponsored my grandmother for a green card, which she held to the end of her life. When I hear the hue and cry over family green card preferences, I don’t see a nameless horde of foreigners pounding at the gates. I think of my father, a lifelong Republican voter, and my Nonna who raised me while my parents worked full time.
Since 1855, when wives of immigrants were automatically granted citizenship, family sponsorship has been a linchpin of our immigration policy – and for good reason. Immigrants with a family support network in place are more likely to find jobs and less likely to claim social services.
Over the past year, fear-mongering over legal immigration has seeped from the fringe into the highest halls of power. Family-sponsored immigration first came under the cross hairs in January, when Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue introduced an immigration overhaul that would scrap the family preference and halve the number of green cards issued over the coming decade. And a few days ago, the Senate Republican leadership announced a plan to offset the extension of DACA protections by ending family sponsorships so Dreamers don’t become a bridgehead for their parents or spouses.
But the case against family preferences relies on faulty logic propped up by bizarro economics. The legislation on the table for Dreamers would not result in a short-term surge of family sponsorships. According to current proposals, Dreamers face a decade-plus path to citizenship. In most cases, their parents would not qualify for a sponsored green card, and extended relations would face the same rigorous vetting as any other would-be immigrant.
But suppose Dreamers were granted complete amnesty at the stroke of a pen. Suppose they also defied historical precedent by immediately sponsoring their extended family. Suppose all those relations were high school dropouts, and that their green card applications were approved overnight. None of this is remotely possible – but if it were, the effect would be a sustained boost to our GDP.
The fear that legal immigration by low-skilled workers subjects low-skilled Americans to unfair competition is demonstrably false and smacks of timidity – not a traditional conservative value. The fact is, lower wages for ranch hands and dishwashers have little effect on wages for low-skilled positions that require English fluency. And with our labor market nearing full employment, slashing the ranks of our legal workforce would cripple economic growth.
The pivot from demonizing illegal immigrants on the campaign trail to disenfranchising legal immigrants on the Senate floor is one of the more sinister developments in the ongoing Republican retreat from conservative values. Every argument leveled so far against legal immigration is false, which leaves us to explain the current anti-immigrant push with a sickening set of small-minded motives: opportunism, cowardice, bigotry.
By entertaining the sweet nothings of fear and prejudice, we surrender to our inner demons and profane our national character. Traditional conservatives don’t feel threatened by the new kid in class, but believe, like Reagan, that “our strength comes from our own immigrant heritage and our capacity to welcome those from other lands.”
Stefano de Stefano is the Republican primary challenger for Ted Cruz’s seat in the U.S. Senate.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.