It's time for Congress to end chain migration and put America's working class first

Congress recently rejected immigration proposals that would have prioritized the needs of illegal immigrants over American citizens. The Senate defeated three immigration amendments that would have given amnesty to the hundreds of thousands of "Dreamers" brought into the U.S. illegally as children without immediately ending chain migration.

The defeat of these proposals is good news. If Washington truly wants to look out for the interests of all Americans, lawmakers need to end chain migration, which is both a national and economic threat this country and it’s working-class.

Just before Christmas, Egyptian-born terrorist Ahmed Amin El-Mofty opened fire on police officers in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Earlier in December, Bangladesh native Akayed Ullah tried to set off a pipe bomb near Times Square in New York City.

Both men came to the United States through a process known as chain migration, which allows recent immigrants to obtain green cards for their extended relatives in foreign countries. The White House has vowed to end chain migration, dubbing it a national security threat.

The flow of terrorists and criminals into a country is a serious national security threat – but there's an even more pressing reason to eliminate chain migration. The policy, which allows high volumes of low-skilled workers to flood the country, depresses wages and undermines job prospects for Americans.

Right now, our immigration system gives priority for green cards to the extended family members of recent immigrants. After becoming a citizen, an immigrant can start a "chain" by sponsoring his parents, siblings, and adult children for green cards, which grant lifetime work and residency privileges. These new arrivals can sponsor their own relatives, who in turn can sponsor even more relatives.

The system doesn't take immigrants' skills or educational backgrounds into consideration. Virtually all that matters is whether the prospective immigrants are lucky enough to already have family members in the United States.

Chain migration has caused a spectacular surge in immigration over the past 50 years. In the 1950s and 1960s, legal immigration numbered about 250,000 each year. Today that figure tops 1 million people annually. Immigrants who migrated after 1996 brought an average of 3.45 additional family members.

Future immigration levels will increase even further if Congress provides amnesty to the roughly 800,000 illegal aliens who received temporary work permits and a reprieve from deportation under President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. If these people receive green cards, they'd be able to sponsor additional family members – often the parents who illegally brought them to the United States.

All told, a DACA amnesty could prompt up to 6 million foreign nationals to enter the country.

American workers – particularly those with limited skill sets – would suffer the consequences of this influx. Most immigrants who arrive via chain migration have limited formal educations, so they compete against lesser-skilled Americans for the same jobs.

Among native-born Americans 25 and older, just 12 percent lack a high-school diploma; among naturalized citizens and non-citizens in that age range, nearly 30 percent failed to complete high school. Nearly half of the high-school dropouts in this country are foreign-born.

Competition from lesser-skilled foreign workers has increased unemployment among vulnerable Americans. High school dropouts have an unemployment rate of about 8 percent, roughly triple the rate for college graduates. When factoring in underemployed workers and discouraged workers who have left the labor force entirely, that rate nearly doubles.

Increased competition also drives down wages. Consider what happened in Miami in the 1980s. The sudden arrival of roughly 125,000 Cuban refugees from the Mariel Boatlift boosted Miami's workforce by 8 percent and increased the number of high school dropouts in the city by nearly 20 percent. The increased competition in the low-skilled sector tanked wages for the least-skilled workers by between 10 and 30 percent.

In total, Harvard economist George Borjas estimates that immigration has reduced wages for high school dropouts by up to 5 percent.

Working-class Americans cannot withstand endless competition from thousands upon thousands of low-skilled immigrants willing to work for very low wages.

Thankfully, there's a bill in Congress to relieve these workers. The Securing America's Future Act, introduced by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., would end chain migration and the diversity visa lottery. It would strengthen our borders and mandate that all employers verify that their employees are legally eligible to work in the United States.

It's time for Congress to put America's working class first by stopping the influx of low-skilled foreign laborers whose only qualification is having a family member in the United States.

Ryan James Girdusky is a writer and commentator.