Last summer, I visited a gathering in my neighborhood for some outdoor fellowship on a neatly manicured lawn. There were picnic tables, singing, and steaks in steam trays to feed perhaps 40 people. The group had grown in size over decades, meeting regularly and serving one another, watching each other’s children, fixing roofs, shoveling driveways in winter—including mine.

It was not a church. This reunion of brothers, aunts, children, and grandparents was for an aging Mexican man’s birthday party. It offered the clearest picture I’ve seen of the outcome of so-called “chain migration.”

Political debates about America’s immigration system have increasingly focused on family reunification, the cornerstone of US immigration policy for the last 50 years. The opportunity for lawful residents and citizens to sponsor certain relatives and bring them to America accounts for a majority of immigrants admitted in recent years.

The doctrine was not particularly controversial for the first few decades of its existence. But in the 1990s, academics innocuously minted the term “chain migration” to refer to the idea that people, naturally, like to live near family. It was quickly applied to family-based immigration, however, and weaponized by some who feared an imminent tsunami of low-skilled, cultural “others” would follow their relatives to the United States and wreak havoc on our society and economy.

That our immigration system is bafflingly complex and ineffective is a point of agreement on all sides of the issue, and there is much room for debate about how America should balance its dual ideals of security and hospitality. But Christians should be wary of efforts to do so ...

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