Even a modest amnesty limited to the roughly 690,000 illegal immigrants participating in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program could eventually add another 1.4 million new immigrants, according to a study released Wednesday.
The report, prepared by the Center for Immigration Studies, examines the impact of “chain migration” since the early 1980s and projects how family-sponsored migration would boost numbers from the original amnesty of so-called “dreamers,” beneficiaries of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.
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From 1981 to last year, according to the study, an estimated 13 million immigrants gained legal entry into the United States through sponsorship by what the paper terms “initiating immigrants” who came on work visas or as refugees. The remaining 20 million immigrants came via chain migration. That is 61 percent of the 33 million total immigrants during that time period.
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Jessica Vaughan, the author of the study, said she thinks 1.4 million is a conservative estimate. Chain migration not only accounts for a majority of the migration to America, but it is a far higher share of Mexican immigration. And Mexicans make up about 80 percent of the people enrolled in DACA.
The bump would not occur immediately, because of waiting lists for certain categories of family immigration and the amount of time it would take for DACA recipients to become legal residents and then citizens. But once they did get citizenship, she said, the immigration rules would lead to more.
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“That’s a structural issue with our immigration policy,” she said. “It’s set up that way.”
The report makes several recommendations for mitigating the impact of any DACA amnesty. Congress should reform immigration to cut down on chain migration, end the diversity visa lottery program, and place limits on the number of parents who can enter each year via sponsorship by their U.S.-citizen children.
President Donald Trump’s decision this month to end the DACA program — albeit not until March — set off a firestorm in Washington. Democrats and some Republicans moved swiftly to dust off the DREAM Act. It would grant amnesty to a group well beyond the nearly 700,000 currently enrolled in DACA. Independent analysts have estimated that 1.5 million people or more might benefit.
On Monday, a trio of Republican senators introduced the Solution for Undocumented Children through Careers, Employment, Education, and Defending our Nation (SUCCEED) Act, which has slightly more stringent eligibility requirements and would phase in full amnesty over a longer time period. Recipients could not become citizens for at least 15 years. But experts said that bill, too, probably would cover about 1.5 million people.
[lz_table title=”The Impact of Chain Migration” source=”Center for Immigration Studies”]New immigrants and their relatives
Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, said the details of the eventual amnesty would determine how much and how fast family-based immigration increases as a result. But she said it is inevitable that without steps by Congress, the impact would be felt far beyond the dreamers.
Under current law, green card holders can sponsor their spouses and children, but there is a two-year waiting period. Once they become citizens, the amnestied illegal immigrants would be able to sponsor parents, spouses and children. Those migrants would not be subject to waiting periods or caps.
The newly minted citizens also would be able to sponsor siblings and their spouses and children, but the number in that category is capped, and the waiting lists are substantial — particularly for Mexicans and those of other nationalities who make up most of the DACA enrollees.
[lz_table title=”Top Sending Countries” source=”Center for Immigration Studies”]Immigrants arriving 1996-2000
Vaughan said the big unknown question is how many parents would be able to become illegal immigrants. Many of the DACA recipients have parents who also are illegal immigrants to the United States and are living in America.
That theoretically would disqualify them until they returned home for a period of time, usually 10 years. But Vaughan said fraud likely would be high. It would be difficult to prove that an illegal immigrant had been in the United States if he or she had not previously been deported or come in contact with immigration authorities in some other way.
There are other ways to get around legal impediments, Vaughan said. She said some illegal immigrants might qualify for hardship waivers. Those might be hard to come by in the Trump administration. But Vaughan said a future administration might grant them more liberally.
Another unanswered question is how many of those receiving amnesty eventually would become American citizens. After an amnesty that Congress passed in 1986, the immigration rate dipped, mainly because the newly amnestied green card holders became citizens at relatively low rates. Mexican immigrants, in general, historically, naturalize at lower rates.
There is no way to predict with certainty, but Vaughan said past patterns likely would not hold up.
“I think that’s going to be different for the DACA beneficiaries,” she said. “And I think that’s important.”
The reason, Vaughan said, is that DACA recipients have a different experience from the typical Mexican and Central American immigrant. DACA recipients grew up in America and consider themselves to be American in many cases. Perhaps most importantly, she said, they would not be able to sponsor their parents unless they became citizens.
“They have a powerful incentive to become citizens,” she said.
The study estimates that every immigrant who came to the United States from 1981 to 2000 sponsored an average of 1.77 new immigrants. That multiplier was substantially higher for immigrants from Mexico. For those entering between 1996 and 2000, it was 6.38.
Vaughan said several factors could cause the multiplier for DACA beneficiaries to be lower. Since they spent most of their lives in the United States, their ties to relatives in their countries of birth might not be as strong. And with declining birth rates in Mexico, families are somewhat smaller, she said.
In addition, Vaughan added, the economy in Mexico is somewhat better than when previous immigrant waves washed ashore in America.
“On the other hand, there’s increasing violence,” she said.
And even with improved economic prospects in their home countries, the United States will continue to be a big draw as long as wages remain substantially higher than in the third world, Vaughan said.
“I think we have to assume [the chain multiplier] will still be high,” she said.
(photo credit, homepage and article images: Molly Adams, Flickr)
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