Recently, the issue of the immigration “lottery” system and “chain migration” has entered the common vernacular of the immigration debate. The lottery system and chain migration are the result of a broken immigration system that traces back its origin to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, wherein the United States codified who was allowable to come into the country as an immigrant and who was not based on factors such as excluding immigrants from Eastern Europe. Harry Truman, a Democrat, vetoed the legislation arguing that it was “un-American.”
But Truman’s vote was overridden by Congress. Pat McCarran, a Democrat, argued that the law was needed because he believed “that this nation is the last hope of Western civilization and if this oasis of the world shall be overrun, perverted, contaminated or destroyed, then the last flickering light of humanity will be extinguished.” Note the similarity of the political rhetoric back then to today’s ongoing debate?
More important, both protagonists were Democrats.
The law established a quota system for immigrating to the U.S. based on nationality and established a preferential system based on “desirable” ethnic groups of immigrants. The law created three types of immigrants. Those were immigrants with specialized skills and family members of U.S. citizens. Both groups were exempt from a quota system that was established for the third group of immigrants. Thus, “chain migration” was born.
The third group of immigrants were limited to 270,000 a year. Thus, the “lottery” system was born.
A fourth group was also created, the “refugees,” which were treated separate from the rest.
But the underlining driving factor of the 1952 immigration law was to limit immigrants from Africa and Asia and give those from Western Europe preferential treatment over those from Eastern Europe. Thus, the significance of the “shithole countries” and Norway in Trump’s recent outburst over immigration.
In 1965, the 1952 law was amended under the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.
This new revision expanded the four categories into seven and ostensibly removed the limitations based on race and origin. However, it kept the quota system (lottery) in place and emphasized the preference for relatives of U.S. citizens and Green Card holders (chain migration).
It also added a labor certification requirement ostensibly to protect the U.S. labor market from immigrants.
Labor has been the nexus that keeps both sides of the political spectrum pretending to care about immigrants while using them for political fodder.
The 1965 law was authored by two Democrats, Phillip Hart and Emanuel Celler and was adopted mostly evenly by both parties in both houses of Congress. Strict limits on the number of immigrants from the southern border were imposed by the new law while the demand for jobs increased. Along with this dynamic, a “look the other way” policy of allowing working immigrants to enter the country was tacitly allowed to manifest itself. Thus, the undocumented working immigrants’ demographics moved towards Asian and Latin American immigrants and away from the others.
The underlining problem is that most immigrant arguments tend to ignore that Mexican immigrants generally do not intend to immigrate permanently, but rather are transient workers looking to work a season and return home to México when not working. Unable to formulate a reasonable solution to work permits, while the need for immigrant workers increased, the transient workers became permanent immigrants.
This is because they were forced to immigrate permanently after border enforcement increased due to the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act that made it more difficult to cross the border in search of work and much easier to remain in the U.S. under the “amnesty” program included in the 1986 law.
Neither political party has wanted to address the underlining problem that the U.S. needs and depends on Mexican labor to work the fields and service the restaurants and hospitality industries. Instead of offering work permits, the politicos would rather pretend that formulas of “acceptable” immigrants and the exclusion of the undesirables will resolve the problem.
Although the 1986 law offered amnesty, it did nothing for allowing immigrant workers to fill the needed job slots and, thus, it did not solve the problem, it just created another one.
The worker immigrant population continued to increase as the job openings remained available to undocumented workers. After the 9/11 attacks, the borders were further sealed, and many immigrants were locked on the U.S. side of the border, unable to continue going back and forth as work dynamics changed.
But the latest iteration of the law kept the “chain migration” preference and the “lottery” system in place because of the quotas, while the opportunity to fill work slots by transient immigrants was not resolved, thus exasperating the immigration problem.
Had a work permit system being put in place to fill the slots occupied by working immigrants – allowing them to travel home when not working – the issue of immigration would have been solved.
But no politico has the courage to argue that reality of immigration – instead pretending they care when using immigrants as political fodder. And, thus the immigration system remains broken and will continue to remain so, regardless of The Wall Trump builds or the laws Congress enacts.
Until the reality that immigrant labor to work the fields and serve the service industries is verbalized, the issue of immigration will remain unresolved.