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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Chain Migration

"Chain migration is the process by which one immigrant is admitted to the country, then he or she sponsors relatives back home to come to the U.S., who in turn could sponsor more relatives. In other words, under current U.S. immigration policy, admitting one immigrant to the country who can sponsor family members can set off a chain reaction that swells immigration numbers."

Tessa Berenson, Sep 15, 2017 Time Magazine

Lately "chain migration" has been in the US news  and the context of course is immigration reform, in particular DACA (Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals).  As the definition above shows, chain migration is being framed as a problem associated with family reunification policies.  Oh my goodness, let one immigrant in, give him or her legal status (residency or citizenship) and suddenly the entire family has an open door to move to the US.

Aside from the fact that family reunification in the US is not so simple (and this is true in more and more countries), the above definition of chain migration is misleading in so many ways.  Chain migration can be about families but it's also about transnational networks. And that definition is incomplete because it presumes that the chain is all about the immigrant and says nothing about other factors that made emigration likely for other individuals.

Chain migration is about networks - ties between a home and host country. If we look at yesterday's post Burke's arrival in Japan and getting the job she wanted was a very deft use of a migrant network.  The ties need not be familial all all; they can be professional, academic connections or friends and friends of friends.  (Maybe even just Facebook friends.)  Look at your email contact list and every one in another country is a connection to that place.  Some of my best contacts come through Alcoholics Anonymous which has a community in just about every city I've ever lived in.  

Multiply these connections by thousands or tens of thousands and they become very significant.  It's the folks already in place (and they can be either migrants/expats from your country or local citizens with connections to it) in contact with people on the other side of a border somewhere and using those contact to seek opportunity while mitigating the risks associated with migration by inspiring or helping them.  Sometimes even the dead are a kind of connection.  It's not unusual for Americans in France or Japan to cite the influence of Ernest Hemingway or Lafcadio Hearn as being instrumental in their decision to come to Paris or Tokyo. 

 Having a relative (a live one) in the host country who is a citizen is sometimes very helpful but it is not necessary in order for chain migration to occur.  Undocumented residents and mixed communities of citizens, legal residents and sans papiers can and do offer a kind of sponsorship  to friends and family seeking to enter a country.  So the focus on families and chain migration is overstated in my opinion. 

Chain migration is real but it's so much more than just family.  Stopping it (if that is indeed what you desire) involves a lot more than limiting family reunification.  People are, after all, free to talk with one another.  They are allowed to write and publish books about their experiences in the host country and explain how they managed to migrate and make a life for themselves.  They can even offer a spare bed to a friend of a friend until he finds his feet and a job.  Stopping the chain means limiting or stopping the information flows that are circulating all over the world even as we speak.  

My second point is that every migration chain has a beginning.  It doesn't just kick off of its own accord.  The very first migrants to come are sometimes called pioneer migrants because they are the ones who pave the way for others to follow.  But why do the pioneers leave in the first place?  This is where chain migration gets very interesting because a lot of things can start a chain or kick one into high gear.  Things like war, for example, or occupation.  According to the Migration Policy Institute in 1990 there were around 45,000 Iraqis in the US.  By the year 2000 there were  90,000 Iraqis living in the US.  In the 2016 Census Bureau report  Place of Birth for the Foreign-Born Population in the United States they estimate that there are now 222,000 Iraqis in the US.  Some were refugees but others were marriage migrants (not necessarily an easy road but soldiers did marry local men and women) or they were sponsored by contacts and allies in the US.

US bases around the world are also generators of family reunification and (potentially) chain migration to the US.  As Hidalgo and Bankston note many sources have noted the connection:
"Military wives have arrived from many of the countries in which the U.S. has had troops, including Germany, Japan, and Korea. In some cases, a military presence has led to a country becoming a major source of female marriage migration. After the World War II, for example, the U.S. kept two large military bases in the Philippines. By one estimate, about half of all the immigrants who came to the U.S. between 1946 and 1965 arrived as wives of U.S. military personnel (Riemers 1985)."
(And now that there are many more American women in the military, we will surely see more foreign "military husbands"  arriving in the US.)

 And then there are the other Americans abroad, the civilians.  There are about 7 millions Americans living outside the US and countless others who go as tourists or students.  While they are abroad they make friends, find spouses, adopt which also can sustain a a chain of migration.  Most of the people I know abroad are married to non-US citizens.  All the spouses are aware that moving to the US is a possibility though the folks I know haven't or won't exercise that option.

In short chain migration doesn't start with an immigrant who becomes a citizen who sponsors her relatives for entry into the US.  It starts well before that with contacts, connections, voices long dead that still speak to us today and the presence of a country's citizens in a foreign country.  There are around 300 million native-born and naturalized Americans in the US and every one of them has the potential to be part of a migrant network and has the right to leave the country and return.  The activities of the government abroad and the creation of a permanent American presence (military or civilian) abroad are also factors in creating or sustaining immigration.  

And yet, it seems that very few people want to admit that there is a link between American citizens, the global communications network, US military interventions and migration.  Another case, I think, where people prefer to place responsibility for the immigration "problem" firmly on the backs of the migrants with the citizens themselves portrayed as the innocent victims of the "hordes" of people trying to crash the gate.  Nonsense.  Not when they were the ones to unlock the gates of globalization  in the first place.


Andrew said...

Nice piece.

Ellen Lebelle said...

Of course chain migration is how we end up with lots of Swedish in Minnesota, Chinatowns, Little Italies. It's why there are so many Polish names in the north of France and Italians in Nogent sur Marne (pre-WWII) followed by the Portuguese (the Salazar years). It's what makes neighborhoods. It makes life interesting!

Victoria FERAUGE said...

It does indeed, Ellen. And for those who argue that it creates immigrant "ghettoes" I think they greatly misunderstand migrant networks. The purpose of a network is to help people move, get jobs, find a place to live, deal with any legal formalities and so on. And through this assistance people integrate. And if a neighborhood retains its migrant flavor over the years? There is a Koreatown here in Osaka that is a tourist attraction. Students actually go on tours of this part of town. :-)

If there is no network then the migrant must make do through trial and error in the host country which one could argue is more of a nuisance for the local citizens. The other option, of cousre, is the state takes responsibility for integration (France does this) which can be a good thing but it costs taxpayer money and one has to ask if integration fails is it then the fault of the state? :-)

What I find most amusing is that many of those who are anti-immigration in France and the US usually exempt immigrants they know from criticism. So cousin Joe from Sacramento wants to bring over his Chinese wife. Well, Joe's a good guy and his wife is a nice lady. What's the problem? Or the pleasant competent fellow who has a little landscaping business that makes the garden shine at an affordable price. Great guy. He and his family should be able to stay. Again, what's the problem? It's all those other immigrants who should go...

Somehow there is this disconnect between the few they know and the many. My family in France does this all the time. I sit through dinners where they talk about the immigrant "problem" and when I point out that I am one, they reply, "We don't mean you, Victoria." Boggles the mind.