Fabiola Santiago

‘Chain migration’? The GOP catchphrase is the latest way to dehumanize immigrants

Celia Llamo hugs her sister Amparo Llamo as she arrives at Miami International Airport from Cuba in 2006.
Celia Llamo hugs her sister Amparo Llamo as she arrives at Miami International Airport from Cuba in 2006. Miami Herald file photo

Until Donald Trump entered the political arena, I had only heard Republicans openly disparage families when they didn’t suit their cookie-cutter ideal of a husband and wife unit. It was ugly enough then, when they raged against gay families, single-parent families, and all other configurations that they abhorred, mostly for reasons of religious dogma.

But the new Republican war on immigrant families strikes at the essence of what the GOP used to boast they stood for: family values. And their tool and strategy in this attack is to pound into the American psyche the derogatory term “chain migration.”

They’ve taken the phrase right out of the white-supremacist dictionary and want to make it a household word to continue reframing the national discussion on immigration as a national security issue.

Republicans are using it to disparage family reunification, a bedrock tenet embedded into U.S. immigration law in 1965 to give the relatives of U.S. citizens priority in the quota-system model that ruled over who was allowed into the country.

Republicans liked that policy just fine when most U.S. citizens sponsoring relatives were white Europeans. But now that the top ethnicity petitioning for the legal entry of family members are Mexican-Americans, President Trump and the Republicans want to crack down on legal immigration.

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Marie-Esperancia Fortin, from Naples, Florida, hugs her two sisters after they arrived at Miami International Airport from Haiti in 1996. Carl Juste Miami Herald file photo

Far-right Republicans, who’ve found in Trump the perfect president to push their agenda, are using the ugly catch phrase to justify his plan to limit visa sponsorship only to spouses and children under 18.

No abuelitas for Hispanics allowed in. No brother or sisterly love.

This, from philanderer Trump, who has gone wife-shopping abroad more than once — from white Eastern Europe, of course.

This is the same Trump who used the family-reunification visa system to bring in Melania’s parents from Slovenia. His son Barron wouldn’t have enjoyed the privilege of having his maternal grandparents living with him in Trump Tower if what his father now wishes for other American families had been the law of the land a decade ago.

The same Trump we wouldn’t have in the White House if his paternal grandfather and mother hadn’t followed their siblings here.

But it’s all of a sudden a national imperative to deny it to U.S. citizens from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, Colombia, El Salvador, China, India, etc., to name some of the top other immigrant groups who would be denied.

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In 2002, Miami Gardens resident Raul Roger reunites at Miami International Airport with his daughter Liset Roger, right, and wife Nancy Perez, left, whom he had not seen since he left Cuba in 1994. Carl Juste Miami Herald file photo

Univision anchor and author Jorge Ramos is right to say that “when Trump says he wants to end ‘chain migration’ he is really attacking Latino families.”

And that’s exactly what Trump is trying to do — to sever the precious bond of family, a pillar component of Hispanic success in this country — in complicity with the GOP and immigration hardliners who coined the term “chain migration” to dehumanize immigrants.

In the same signature move we’ve come to loathe on other subjects, Trump has taken the term to a whole other toxic level.

In December, Trump found the perfect excuse to push the phrase after the failed attempt in New York by a Bangladesh-born man to bomb a subway. Trump promptly tagged the man as having “entered our country through extended-family chain migration.”

By this logic, we should have already taken drastic measures to address white, native-born mass murderers, the continuous loop of white, middle-America wife killers featured on Dateline NBC, and all the other crimes in this country in which the majority of offenders are white, native-born Americans, starting with white-collar crime.

By this logic, we should also be giving some thought to how we’re contributing to the violence and degradation of this country with the constant pounding of white supremacist language. But instead, we continue to heap on more anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim talk, fueling hatred abroad and internally.

Instead of toning down the nasty rhetoric in his State of the Union address, Trump had the audacity to sell family separation as a policy measure that “protects the nuclear family.”

In vintage Trump fashion, he repeated the words “chain migration” twice in a matter of a few paragraphs — and then fed the nation a whopper of a lie about family reunification visas.

“Under the current broken system, a single immigrant can bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives,” he said.

The only relatives that citizens can petition for a green card or a visa are spouse, sons and daughters of any age, and parents and siblings if the petitioner is over 21.

Taking away these already limited rights only weakens American families. Grandparents and other extended family members often play major care-taking roles. A support network strengthens the nuclear family.

Only a callous brute like Trump would argue differently.

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