Jeb Bush’s new book Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution has put a spotlight on the former Florida governor and potential 2016 Republican presidential contender.
In the book, Bush makes the point that our immigration policy prioritizes family reunification -- not the needs of employers. Bush proposed limiting guaranteed admissions to spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens.
By 2011, of the one million immigrants granted permanent legal residence, "nearly 65 percent -- almost two-thirds -- of all new permanent residents obtained that status by virtue of their family status."
We wanted to check Bush’s numbers: Are almost two-thirds of new legal permanent residents here based on their family status?
Bush obtained information from a January 2011 policy brief from the Brookings Institution. The author, Brookings vice president Darrell West, called for immigration reform that in the short term would allow employers to hire workers with scientific and technological skills.
West’s number drew from a group known as legal permanent residents, commonly referred to as green card holders. In 2011, about one million people became legal permanent residents, according to the federal government’s yearbook of immigration statistics. Those who entered based on family ties accounted for about 65 percent.
That included about 235,000 who were family-sponsored preferences and about 453,000 who were immediate relatives of U.S. citizens.
Immediate relatives include spouses, children under the age of 21 or parents of U.S. citizens. If approved, the U.S. government immediately grants those visas for relatives, and there isn’t a quota.
Family sponsored immigrants includes spouses and children of legal permanent residents as well as other relatives of citizens such as siblings.
The U.S. government grants up to 226,000 family sponsored visas per year, and 140,000 employment-based visas per year. In addition, there are limits to the percentage of visas that can be allotted to each country.
(Notice that the quota of 226,000 family sponsored visa cap was slightly lower than the 235,000 number of those admitted in 2011. That’s because the quota refers to the number of visas -- valid for six months -- issued in a year, while the immigration statistics yearbook number refers to the actual admissions. So someone can be issued a visa in 2010 but may not travel until 2011.)
There are a few important exceptions within the different categories, though. Jeffrey Passel, at Pew Research Hispanic Center, said in an email that most immigrants come for work even if they came here under a family or relative category. And not all of the employment-visas are for workers, since the "employment-based" category also includes visas for spouses and children of the workers.
The current debate about overhauling the U.S. immigration system pits those who want to protect family reunification against those who say our economy would benefit from a heavier focus on letting in immigrants based on needed job skills.
In his book, Bush argues the focus on family reunification leads to "crowding out most others, including immigrants who would contribute greatly to economic growth." If the U.S. wants to increase work-based immigrants without increasing immigration overall, it will have to narrow the definition of "family," Bush wrote.
Bush said that by 2011, of the one million immigrants granted permanent legal residence, "nearly 65 percent -- almost two-thirds -- of all new permanent residents obtained that status by virtue of their family status."
Bush correctly cites the numbers, and his broader point is correct, too -- our system favors family reunification.
We rate this claim True.
U.S. State Department, Visa immigration statistics, 2008-2012
U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2011 Yearbook of immigration statistics, September 2012
Miami Herald, "Jeb Bush on immigration minefield: a lot of hot hair on fire right now. Mine isn’t," March 9, 2013
PolitiFact, "Has Jeb Bush flip-flopped on immigration and a pathway to citizenship?" March 8, 2013
PolitiFact, "Rush Limbaugh says immigrants come to U.S. seeking prosperity from government," Jan. 31, 2013
PolitiFact, Immigration, Accessed March 18, 2013
PolitiFact, "Bloomberg claims Canada allows far more work visas than the U.S.," Aug. 5, 2010
Asian American Justice Center, Mee Moua, Accessed March 19, 2013
Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1971
Center for Low Immigration Studies, Three Decades of mass immigration, September 2005
Washington Post, Washington Wire blog, "Immigration hearing pits family against economy," March 18, 2013
Interview, Jaryn Emhof, Jeb Bush spokesman, March 11, 2013
Interview, Tamar Jacoby, president of ImmigrationWorks USA, March 12, 2013
Interview, Mark Lopez, associate director, Pew Research Hispanic Center, March 12, 2013
Interview, Jeffrey Passel, senior demographer Pew Research Hispanic Center, March 12, 2013
Interview, Michelle Mittelstadt, spokeswoman Migration Policy Institute, March 14, 2013
Interview, Burke Speaker, spokesman Migration Policy Institute, March 18, 2013
Interview, Madeline Zavodny, economics professor at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, GA,, March 19, 2013
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