A White House chart on 'chain migration' has numbers that add up, but lacks context

The White House issued a chart to provide some context on “chain migration.” CREDIT: Courtesy of The White House.
The White House issued a chart to provide some context on “chain migration.” CREDIT: Courtesy of The White House.

WASHINGTON - The White House issued an interesting chart on “chain migration,” which refers to the practice of immigrants bringing other members of their families to the United States. The Trump administration argues that the immigration should be less based on family ties, and more on economic merit.

Under U.S. law, there is a preference for relatives already living in the United States, so a U.S. citizen can petition for a green card for spouses, children, parents or siblings. So, for example, a sibling of U.S. citizen could come to the United States, bringing along spouses and minor children.

We thought we’d run through the numbers and provide some context. But, first some disclosure: The Fact Checker team all have immigrant roots, like many Americans, so here’s our story.

Glenn Kessler’s father and mother emigrated from the Netherlands, arriving by ship in New York on March 1, 1954, according to Ellis Island records. They were married at the time, and came from Dutch families who can trace their ancestors to the 1300s. His father had been recruited by Procter & Gamble to work as a chemical engineer. However, none of their siblings came after them, with the exception of a sister whose husband for a few years worked for the United Nations and the World Bank before returning to Holland. Kessler has 27 cousins, but only one lives in the U.S. (and is married to a Russian native).

Salvador Rizzo’s father is from Mexico, descended from European immigrants. He worked in Mexico even after marrying Rizzo’s mother and remained a Mexican citizen, as the children grew up on the American side of the border. Three of his father’s sisters and some cousins did immigrate and live in South Texas with their families. His mother’s side of the family is descended from Texas pioneers, or settlers who were in the state prior to 1886. They came from Spain sometime between 1762 and 1809 and settled in Texas before it became a state in 1845.

Meg Kelly’s grandmother initially came over on a visitor’s visa to see her sister in the late 1930s. She had been studying in Turkey and when she was set to return to Germany when her parents, who later went into hiding, told her not to come back and instead to go visit her sister, who had married an American. Once her visitor’s visa expired, her grandmother went to Cuba and then the sister sponsored her to come over. Her grandmother’s brother also became a citizen. Her grandfather was a journalist who had been jailed in Germany after writing negatively about Hitler and is believed to have had refugee status in the late 1930s.

In our family histories, chain migration played a role in one case - at a time when people were seeking to flee Hitler’s Germany. But another family arrived on an employment visa.

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Now, let’s look at the White House chart. Officials did not respond to requests for the underlying data but we ran some numbers and believe we understand the math.

According to fiscal year 2016 figures, every year, about 700,000 people arrived in the United States under family-sponsored visas - adult children, children, sibling, parents and spouses of U.S. citizens. Washington, D.C. has a population of 681,000, so that’s just a little bit larger, as the chart said.

Doing the math, you end up with: Every month: 58,333 (football stadium) Every week: 13,462 (basketball arena) Every day: 1,923 (large high school) Every hour: 80 (small auditorium)

Interestingly, the chart says these individuals have been “resettled.” That’s generally not how immigration is described, but apparently the White House wants to make a distinction between people admitted to the country on a temporary basis and those on a path to U.S. citizenship.

So, the numbers add up, but they lack some context.

The U.S. population is 325 million, so family-sponsored immigration amounts to 1/500th of that amount. Washington, D.C., after all, is only the 21st largest U.S. city - and the waiting list for family-sponsored visas is nearly 4 million, about the size of Los Angeles, the 2nd largest city. Some people spend years, even more than a decade, waiting for a family-sponsored visa.

Another statistic: There are 2.6 million deaths a year in the United States. That’s the size of Chicago - and represents 7,200 people per day.

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