There’s been a problematic rise in the use of the term “chain migration,” and American news outlets are unknowingly aiding white nationalists in using it.
Prior to 2017, the term was primarily used in academic papers to describe what the Immigration and Nationality Act refers to as “family reunification.” The process is completely legal, and qualifying permanent residents — or green card holders — can sponsor members of their immediate families and unmarried children to come to the United States under the policy, which has been part of U.S. immigration law for decades.
However, when President Trump began ramping up his nativist immigration policy agenda, his apparatchiks in right-wing media outlets like Breitbart and Fox News began drastically increasing their use of the term “chain migration” and tying it to terrorism.
According to Media Matters for America, Brietbart used the term 70 times in its articles throughout 2017, compared to just three times in 2016. Fox News only used the term seven times between January 1, 2013 and December 31, 2016. However, in 2017, the network used the term 295 times.
Despite its origins in academia, the term has been co-opted by white nationalists seeking to limit immigration policies that are often utilized by immigrants of color from Central and South America, and various African and Asian countries. Twitter user Travis Hale recently praised Trump’s use of the term, saying it had previously only been a “niche” term used by prominent white nationalist publishers Jared Taylor of the American Renaissance and Peter Brimelow of white nationalist site VDare.
CHAIN MIGRATION must end now! Some people come in, and they bring their whole family with them, who can be truly evil. NOT ACCEPTABLE! pic.twitter.com/PQGeTTdRtX
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 1, 2017
— Travis Hale (@AltRightXian) November 1, 2017
Besides actual white nationalists using the term as a preferred alternative to “family reunification,” the American Immigration Lawyers’ Association (AILA) said the phrase was “pejorative” and that its use had negative connotations. AILA opts instead to use the term “family-based immigration.”
In a June 2007 paper, AILA dispelled myths that family reunification policies were overwhelming the country with immigrants, pointing out that Congress put a ceiling of 226,000 on immigrants coming to the U.S. by way of family reunification. AILA also preempted the Trump administration’s proposed “merit-based” immigration system, pointing to past academic research that found the average immigrant has a higher skill level and greater educational level than the average native U.S. citizen.
When President Trump’s continued use of the term “chain migration” is examined alongside his comments about “shithole countries,” which he allegedly used to describe Haiti and the whole of the African continent in a White House meeting while pushing for more immigrants from countries like Norway, the white nationalist implications of the term are hard to ignore. News outlets should remember Trump is the same president who, when running for office, described Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug dealers and called for a total ban on all Muslim immigration along with a national database of Muslims in America.
Salon writer Chauncey DeVega argued that Trump’s stoking of anti-immigrant hatred isn’t that far off from Nazi Germany’s anti-Jewish propaganda. In one comparison, DeVega found striking similarities between a Nazi-era poster warning Germans that Jewish people would soon overpopulate Germany and outnumber so-called “Aryan” Germans, and a recent tweet from the official White House account calling for an end to “chain migration.”
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) December 18, 2017
News outlets are only serving to enable the white nationalist agenda when irresponsibly using the term “chain migration” to describe family reunification or family-based immigration. Editors need to be wary of how various unscrupulous voices have claimed ownership of certain words, and instruct reporters to not use those words to describe longstanding U.S. immigration policy.