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Pathways to Citizenship Encourage 'Chain Migration'

DREAM Act opponents contend that granting undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship would encourage a practice called “chain migration,” the use of an Act beneficiary’s status to sponsor additional family members.

In response, the Act’s original sponsor, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), explains that the Act was drafted to avoid chain migration. First, the Act would not apply to all undocumented immigrants living in the United States, nor would it affect future immigrants. “The Act specifically limits eligibility to those who entered the United States five years or more prior to the bill’s enactment … who already reside in the United States and who have demonstrated favorable equities in and significant ties to the United States,” he says. The DREAM Act would not have long-standing effects on immigration law. It simply offers a one-time pathway to citizenship for a narrowly selected group of immigrants already residing in the country. It would not create a continuing option for immigration relief.

Furthermore, the Act would have no bearing on the families of undocumented immigrants. Eligibility for residency under the DREAM Act would only apply to individuals and would not allow family-wide amnesty.

Indirectly, however, beneficiaries might sponsor immediate family. Should a DREAM Act student gain full citizenship, he or she could petition for immediate family — children, parents or a spouse — to gain residence.

Nevertheless, this process could still take years, and fear of chain migration pertains only to the immediate family of the Act’s beneficiaries. Should an immigrant decide after earning residency to naturalize, he or she would be permitted to sponsor parents, siblings or a spouse living abroad. However, since the Act would only benefit immigrants who arrived in the United States before their sixteenth birthday, it is likely that any children born to eligible students would have been born in the country and therefore already be citizens. Extended family members such as grandparents, cousins, nieces or nephews are not eligible for visas. Any family members living in the United States illegally are subject to the same penalties that require them to leave the country for 10 years prior to becoming eligible for a visa. Any family member attempting to reenter the country after being previously removed or deported would still be required to follow the ten-year waiting period mandated by the Immigration and Nationality Act before becoming eligible for a visa. While the possibly of chain migration exists, its impact is drastically tempered by current restrictions.

Finally, should visa requests increase with the passage of the DREAM Act, the wait time would extend even longer. The current backlog of visa applications would swell while admittance caps remain constant, further delaying applicants. Family of DREAM Act beneficiaries would still be forced to wait years for legal status, limiting the Act’s effect on immigration.