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Liberals in Congress wanted to scrap the restrictive quota-based system that had governed U.S. immigration policy for decades. Conservatives feared that America’s ethnic and racial composition would be forever transformed.

So in 1965 they compromised: an immigration model that would favor “family unification.” By giving priority to the relatives of U.S. citizens, who were mostly of white, European descent, the Immigration and Nationality Act would ensure that future newcomers were overwhelmingly white and European, too.

It did not work out that way. But although the family unification model went on to enjoy broad support as a source of economic and social stability for immigrants, under President Trump it has earned a pejorative label as the enabler of “chain migration.”

Ahead of a meeting Wednesday between congressional leaders and White House staffers to discuss the administration’s immigration agenda, Trump said that ending “horrible chain migration” will be a condition of any deal that may protect those facing deportation after the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program expires starting in March.

Family ties drive U.S. immigration. Why Trump wants to break the ‘chains.’

An irony of the president’s effort is that liberal reformers of the 1960s wanted a merit-based model, too.


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