taking the words of Jesus seriously

I got to hold a baby who was less than a day old. I got to watch big sister look with pride and a little suspicion, the first glances of a life-long relationship. I got to hug smitten, exhausted mom; got to watch dad’s careful and calm acts of support. I got to see a brand new family today becoming itself. It was so common and so holy.

As we were leaving, I stepped into the hallway with my own little ones, who were giddy with excitement over a new being and also the hand sanitizer squirter machine. I saw a group of folks knocking with trepidation on another closed door, holding balloons and wearing goofy grins, speaking a language I didn’t understand. Another new family; so common, so holy.

We are Christians. We are family people. We believe that we have been welcomed into God’s family. We call one another our family members. We celebrate that Jesus himself was once part of human family. We advocate for the importance of family — of covenant marriage, of the gift of children, of honoring the legacies of those who came before us.

We are Christians, and so I think we need to speak truthfully about the headline-grabbing phrase “chain migration,” a concept being embraced by the Right and sadly by some in the church, and which is threatening to undermine the value of family that has so long defined us.

What is being disparaged today as dangerous “chain migration” is actually an immigration policy that has long been called “family reunification.” It is the policy which has allowed people, since its inception in 1965, to reunite with their immediate family members when they come to the U.S., to not live a lifetime apart from their spouse and small children. After the years-long process of becoming a U.S. citizen, an immigrant can also try to bring their married adult children, their parent, or their siblings, to not live a lifetime apart from the ones who make them who they are.

Here’s what this process does not allow: A person cannot bring their extended family member — grandparent, cousins, aunts, or uncles. “Extended chain migration” is simply a lie.

It does not allow family members to be reunited immediately; in fact, the wait times are painfully, egregiously long. This month, the U.S. government will start processing the applications for siblings of naturalized U.S. citizens which were filed in 2004. (14 years of waiting.) Unless the sibling is from Mexico — then the applications were filed in 1997. (21 years ago.) Or the Philippines, filed in 1994. (In 1994, I had a crush on a guy in a Ska band. I was on the swim team. I was wearing overalls with one strap down. That was 24 years ago.)

Family reunification is not guaranteed. It is not unvetted. It is not unlimited in number.

I would argue, furthermore, that is not a threat to the United States. It is not the cause of violence or terrorism. It is not a rampant, destructive policy. It is a family-values policy. It is a community stability policy.

I think what’s most frightening is that this myth of chain migration used to be a pretty fringe idea — a core concept of groups that have their roots in white supremacy. But now, with just a slight re-brand and the power of a presidential Twitter account, this fiction isn’t fringe, it could become U.S. policy. And the very kinds of church folk who argue against immigrant justice with the line, “I have no problem with legal immigrants…” are now aghast over “chain migration” and calling for its end. Folks: they’re trying to end legal migration, too.

For the church, the notion of a reunited family is a deeply important way we see God at work in the world. We tell the story of baby Moses, whose desperate mother floated him down the river to spare him from persecution. And God reunited them. We tell the story of Joseph, who was separated from his beloved father and forced into migration. And God reunited them. We even tell the story of the prodigal son, who we might find undeserving of care and empathy, but who gets just that when he is reunited with his father. We are the church; we love a good family reunion.

I can’t imagine that little family — my glimpse of holiness today — fighting to be together across a border. For too many, this is a decades-long reality. And now, perhaps a dream lost altogether.

If we are the church, the family values folks, then let’s stop perpetuating this harmful buzzword of “chain migration.” Let’s call it a family reunion. And let’s fight for it to stay.

This article originally appeared in the Perspectives Journal.

About The Author


Kate Kooyman is a minister of the Reformed Church in America who serves in the Christian Reformed Church Office of Social Justice in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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