President Trump delivered his first State of the Union address this week, and he said a number of things about immigration. Today I’d like to go beyond the incendiary (and largely false) comments that the President made, and has been making since the start of his campaign, about immigration and crime, and the economic costs of undocumented immigration, and focus more on the concrete policies he is proposing to limit legal immigration to the United States.
The President said that he intends to end the “visa lottery,” by which he meant the diversity visa program. He described this as a program “that randomly hands out green cards without any regard for skill, merit, or the safety of American people. It is time to begin moving toward a merit-based immigration system—one that admits people who are skilled, who want to work, who will contribute to our society, and who will love and respect our country.” The President massively misstated the ways in which the Diversity Visa Program works. The principle is that individuals from countries with fewer immigrants to the United States can apply for a visa. While it is true that a lottery is used to select which cases are chosen for processing, individuals whose applications are picked go through an extremely rigorous vetting process. Applications and interviews at a U.S. Embassy if they are oversees, or at a USCIS field office if they are in the United States. The same interviews and background checks, in fact, that any applicant for a green card must undergo. You might even call it extreme vetting.
The President said that the next part of his immigration plan “protects the nuclear family by ending chain migration. Under the current broken system, a single immigrant can bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives. Under our plan, we focus on the immediate family by limiting sponsorships to spouses and minor children. This vital reform is necessary, not just for our economy, but for our security, and our future.” This has no connection to reality. United States citizens can sponsor certain family members - minor children, spouses, or parents (if the U.S. citizen is over 21) for an immediately available visa. They can sponsor other individuals - adult children, siblings - for an immigrant visa, but with awaiting times sometimes upwards of 20 years. Green card holders can also sponsor certain relatives - spouses, minor children, and unmarried adult children - also with long waiting periods. The “chain migration” that President Trump describes - in which one immigrant can sponsor another, who can sponsor another, until eventually a large part of an extended family is in the United States legally - would require decades to accomplish and is, in any event, simply applying the principle that family unification is reasonable goal for an immigration policy.
President Trump receives much well-deserved criticism for the lies he tells about immigrant crime and the economic costs of undocumented immigration. The misinformation he spreads about America’s legal immigration system is, however, underreported and has the potential to do as much, if not more, damage.
To see the categories for immigrant sponsorship, and the waiting times for those categories, see the State Department visa bulletin by clicking here.