Politics

REPORT: Chain Migration Pushed US Immigration Levels To Record High In 2016

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter

The U.S. system of extended family migration contributed to surge in immigration in 2016, with the number of entries likely surpassing a previous record set nearly two decades ago, according to a new analysis of Census Bureau data.

An estimated 1.8 million immigrants — legal and illegal — settled in the U.S. in 2016, about 53 percent more than in 2011, when a still-historically high 1.1 million people immigrated.

The 2016 figure comes courtesy of a report from the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), which crunched recently released data from the American Community Survey for the first six months of 2016, and then projected a full-year total based on historical patterns. The total number of immigrants includes green card holders, long-term “temporary” visitors like guest workers and foreign students, new asylum seekers, and illegal immigrants.

As the CIS analysis shows, immigration has rebounded from a recent low point in 2011, reaching a level not seen even during the era of mass immigration through Ellis Island in the early 20th century. The number of immigrants entering the U.S. has risen every year since 2011, and nearly 14 million immigrants settled here in the decade between 2006 and 2016, according to the CIS report.

“These dramatic increases are truly extraordinary,” said Steven Camarota, the director of research at CIS. “Our generous legal immigration system allows in a huge number of immigrants and then permits them to sponsor their relatives causing a multiplier effect.”

Camarota and co-author Karen Zeigler attribute the recent surge in immigration to policies for long-term temporary visa holders, who are able to adjust status to permanent residency, and new green card holders. Under U.S. system of extended-family immigration — or chain migration — these recent arrivals can sponsor relatives for immigrant visas of their own.

Critics of the system say it allows too much immigration on the basis of family ties alone, instead of potential economic contributions or likelihood of assimilation. About 70 percent of all immigrants admitted to the U.S. over the last decade were chain migration immigrants.

Chain migration has come under closer scrutiny in recent months, after immigration officials revealed that the suspects in several terror attacks came to the U.S. on extended family visas. The Trump administration has called for tighter controls on chain migration, largely on the basis of security concerns. (RELATED: DHS: Suspects In Terror-Related Crimes Came To US Through Chain Migration)

The national security vulnerability built into chain migration is just one reason to consider reforming immigration laws, Camarota says. He also points to the fiscal burden imposed by very high levels of immigration on the U.S. education and welfare systems.

“The numbers have profound implications for American schools, taxpayers, workers as well as our culture and national security,” he said. “Yet the whole system is allowed to run largely on autopilot with few asking whether any of this makes sense for our country

Read the full CIS report here.

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