Nevada Senator Flat-Out Misstates How Chain Migration Works

Democrat Cortez Masto falsely declares that husbands and wives spend decades waiting to join their immigrant spouses here

In attempting to debunk Republican arguments about so-called chain migration, a Democratic senator from Nevada on Wednesday grossly misstated how the U.S. immigration system works.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto made her comments during the Senate’s debate over whether to grant amnesty to young adult illegal immigrants brought to America as children and whether to adopt President Donald Trump’s proposed changes to legal immigration.

Like other Democrats, Masto opposes limiting the ability of new citizens to sponsor extended family members for immigration. On the floor, she depicted an immigration system that currently separates spouses for many, many years.

“It is a long and arduous process that leaves husbands, wives, parents, brothers and sisters waiting for decades,” she declared. “This system is so broken and slow that many people die before they ever have the chance to be reunited with their loved ones again.”

Either Masto simply is mistaken about the U.S. immigration system — or she was lying. Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), said both citizens and legal permanent residents can sponsor spouses from foreign countries.

“It’s really fast for citizens,” he said. “It’s a little bit longer for legal permanent residents, but not as long as she said.”

Waiting lists are long for certain family visa categories. For instance, the federal government now is processing October 1994 applications from adult siblings from the Philippines. But Mehlman said Masto paints a misleading picture.

“She’s kind of lumping it all together,” he said.

Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), estimated that it takes about four to six months for foreigners who marry American citizens to immigrate to America.

“They are admitted every year without limit,” she said. “There is no a waiting list, per se, for a spouse of a U.S. citizen.”

“They are admitted every year without limit. There is no a waiting list, per se, for a spouse of a U.S. citizen.”

There are waiting lists for foreigners who marry U.S. permanent residents. The wait currently is a couple of years, Vaughan said, but not decades.

And crucially, Vaughan said, those rules do not apply to immigrants who are married when they arrive. Immigrants approved for admission to the United States can bring their spouses and minor children immediately, she said. The longer waits apply only when legal residents marry foreigners.

In her speech, Masto suggested that waiting lists refute Republican characterizations of how chain migration impacts overall immigration. “This image of immigrants coming in endless chains across our borders couldn’t be further from the truth,” she said.

That is false, Vaughan said. “That is exactly how it works.”

Vaughan said about 60 percent of all immigrants over the past 35 years have entered via chain migration — because they were related to earlier immigrants. As an example, an immigrant who becomes a citizen can sponsor his wife and minor children for immediate immigration and other relatives subject to waiting lists. The wife then would have a fast track to citizenship — three years — and could sponsor her relatives.

Related: Hard-Line Immigration Activists Soften Their Opposition to Amnesty

Vaughan said the result is a long chain of newcomers tied to the original immigrant. She said those immigrants do not come all at once, but “it happens faster than she [Masto] describes.”

Mehlman, the FAIR spokesman, said that if Masto is so concerned about the long waiting lists for extended relatives, then she should support Trump’s proposal: It would use green cards currently awarded randomly to applicants under the diversity visa lottery program to reduce the backlogs in other family immigration categories.

Masto, Mehlman said, is being disingenuous.

“Whatever suits their political agenda,” he said.

PoliZette senior writer Brendan Kirby can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter.