From the NYT oped page:
By Mae Ngai, July 19, 2017
Efforts to manipulate the meaning in immigration matters often reflect racial bias instead of real needs.
… In countries like Syria, where families have been torn asunder by war, a cousin in America may be someone’s only lifeline to safety.
In response, the administration said that it was merely following established immigration law. That’s true to the extent that only certain immediate relations are eligible for family-sponsored visas for permanent residence. …
It is true, however, that efforts to define and manipulate the definition of “family” in immigration matters are not new. For more than 100 years the government has done so, often reflecting political exigency and racial bias rather than the real needs and desires of families. …
Although the United States purports to promote family unification in its immigration policy, it has usually defined “family” as narrowly as possible, limited to the nuclear family of two heterosexual parents and their children. (Only recently have we recognized same-sex spouses.) But the nuclear family is not the normative family unit in much of the world — or for many in the United States, for that matter.
It’s almost as if people in chaotic clan-based countries like Somalia want to immigrate to orderly nuclear family-based countries like America, but not vice-versa …
In addition, the government has used an arbitrary distinction between citizens and permanent residents to make the rules narrower still. Those definitions have effectively served only one purpose: to constrain the volume of immigration.
This whole “citizen” vs. “noncitizen” distinction is just legalistic gobbledygook. If you show up at JFK and you’re not white or you are Muslim or you have a Spanish surname, you should be entitled to all the privileges of being an American. It’s the Zeroth Amendment! (And don’t whine about how your obsolete First Amendment gives you the right to object if you know what’s good for you.)
First, we should loosen the numerical restrictions on immigration to allow for a greater number of relatives to immigrate. Proposals to eliminate various family preferences often assume a zero-sum calculation — adult siblings are deemed dispensable so more visas can go to spouses — but why can’t we increase the overall number of relatives eligible for immigration? …
Uh, because we prefer not to? Or is not wanting more immigrants ipso facto racist and thus a violation of the Zeroth Amendment?
Second, we should expand the definition of family to include grandparents, aunts and uncles and other close relations. …
After all, how many people would get let in if we started expanding the immigration-entitlement to “grandparents, aunts and uncles, and other close relations,” not to mention their aunts and uncles and other close relations and the close relations’ close relations’ close relations, etc etc, you dumb American round-eye tall-nose who thinks in nuclear family terms and never looks hard at a family tree?
Trust me, it’s a very small number! I’m Asian so I’m good at math!
The battle over who is a “close family relation” highlights an uncomfortable truth about American immigration policy: It limits family unification in the service of restrictionist and, at times, discriminatory goals.
Mae Ngai, a professor of history at Columbia University, is the author of “Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America.”
My latest Taki’s Magazine column, The Zeroth Amendment, explains the unspoken assumption behind the ever increasing number of elite effusions along these lines.