Last week, several pro-amnesty organizations held a press conference to announce they would fight any efforts by Congress to eliminate or reduce chain migration.  (Associated Press, Apr. 3, 2013) Chain migration refers to the ability of individuals to sponsor extended family members for green cards under the Immigration and Nationality Act (See Section 203(a)).

The groups are reacting to statements from Gang of Eight member Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) who has said on several occasions that he intends to tackle chain migration in the highly-anticipated amnesty bill.  For example, on CNN last Sunday, Senator Graham said that a primary goal of the legislation would be to “turn our chain migration, family-based immigration system into a merit-based immigration system with a family component.” (CNN.com, Mar. 30, 2013)

But even though Senator Graham has been a long-time amnesty supporter, the amnesty groups were not impressed.  “We’re very concerned about what we’re hearing,” said Mee Moua, president of the Asian American Justice Center. (NBCnews.com, Apr.3, 2013)”The elimination of any of the categories, particularly the sibling or married children categories, is going to have a disproportionate impact on the Asian American community, in addition to the Latino community and the African-Caribbean community as we’re striving to allow those groups to reunite with their families.”  (Id.)

Martinez de Castro from the National Council of La Raza argued that these extended family members are no less likely to contribute positively to the economy than those who come for work.  (Id.) Kevin Appleby of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops echoed her sentiment. “Immigrant families are not potted plants,” Appleby said. “They work, and they are economic actors as well.” (Id.) AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka added: “Some are trying to pit economic interests against family. They say that ‘on merit’ brothers and sisters and children and spouses are worth less than people employers prefer. The labor movement doesn’t buy that for one second.” (Talking Points Memo, Apr. 3, 2013)

Despite such statements, family-based immigration does in fact make up roughly two-thirds of all green cards issued annually and, because of the ability to sponsor numerous family members, tends to bring in less educated, low-skilled individuals.  According to 2010 census data, only 18% of the foreign-born population in the U.S. had a bachelor’s degree.  About 16.9% had some college education, while 26% had only a high school diploma and 28.1% had less than a high-school diploma.  (CIS Report, August 2012)  Similarly, in 2010, the median annual income for a foreign-born worker was $34,021 compared to $43,701 for a native-born. (Id.)