Reform hits US Chinese migrants’ family ties

By Rong Xiaoqing Source:Global Times Published: 2018/1/18 20:18:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Negotiations between the White House and Congress regarding the future of the so-called Dreamers have left many in the Chinese community unnerved. The Dreamers - immigrants who were brought to the US illegally when they were children - had been temporarily protected by former president Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, policy. But they have been living in fear since President Donald Trump terminated the program last September and put them at risk of being deported back to a home country they never knew.

While the Dreamers deserve a permanent solution, advocates worry that it may come with a heavy price - the president seems to be determined to trade such a solution in return for some major concessions from his opponents - such as building his proposed wall along the Mexican border, eliminating lottery green cards and cutting off "chain migration" - immigrants who bring their family members into the US by sponsoring them for green cards.

The southern border, which used to be the finish line for tens of thousands immigrants from East China's Fujian Province who were smuggled into the US in the 1980s and 1990s, is no longer as significant. And the smuggling waves from China have been dying down for some time. Chinese are not eligible to apply for the lottery green cards in the first place. But the possible termination of family reunion green cards will be hard to swallow for many Chinese. As a long-time community activist told me: "We Chinese have a different concept of 'family' from other Americans. To us, family is several generations living together. And this hasn't changed."

This has been shown by the path of early Chinese immigrants who, through the years, brought in all their family members from spouses, children and parents to siblings. And it doesn't seem to have been such a bad thing. Despite a few bad apples who committed crimes after they arrived in the US on a family reunion visa, the families in general helped stabilize the Chinese immigrant community. With family members taking care of one another, the burden on the social welfare system is reduced.

Take the very traditional Manhattan Chinatown where early immigrants are concentrated. Scenes like grandparents pushing strollers containing their grandchildren and younger people pushing wheelchairs of the elderly are ubiquitous. And the crime rate in Chinatown is lower than Sunset Park in Brooklyn, another Chinese-dominated neighborhood where there are more new immigrants who live alone.  

Community advocates say this shows how family relations form the core values for Chinese immigrants and they predict that the whole community will lock arms together to fight against any proposal that may affect family reunion.

But they hadn't counted on the Chinese Trump supporters.

There is no official tally on how many Chinese Americans are part of Trump's base. But based on a survey of 14,400 Asian voters in 14 states conducted by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, 24 percent of Chinese voters voted for Trump in the presidential election in 2016, compared to 17 percent of all Asian voters, and 73 percent of Chinese voters voted for Hillary Clinton, compared to 79 percent of Asian voters.

The Chinese Trump supporters, just like many people in Trump's base, are fiercely loyal and don't seem to be budged even if he pushes immigration policies that aren't in their interests. The Trump supporters I talked to, including highly-educated people who graduated from prestigious universities in both China and the US as well as non-English-speaking street vendors, do agree that family reunion is important to Chinese immigrants. And some of them still have their own family members in China. But they tend to judge right and wrong on the basis of the interests of the US rather than the interests of the Chinese community.

One Chinese Trump supporter told me he understands that the personal interest of Trump supporters may be hurt by his immigration policies. But he still thinks the policies have to be pursued.

"The unskilled people the family reunion visa program brings into this country will eventually become the burden of this country. To stop them from coming may not be good for individual families but is good for the US," he said.

I am not surprised by the mind-set. Growing up in China, we were taught since childhood to put the national interest and that of the collective group above our own hopes and needs. When there are conflicts between the two, those who make personal sacrifice for the country are always praised and those who do the opposite are shamed.

But this seems to be a truly unusual way of thinking in the US. It is a country where the central government doesn't have an obligation to take care of an individual state. This is a country where every single group, from local municipality to ethnic community, is encouraged to take care of themselves before they help anyone else. That's why in New York, every budget season, so many different groups will go to City Hall to present their own needs as the most important ones.

It's hard to tell where things are heading to in terms of immigration policy reform or anything else in this country now. But I only hope that Chinese Trump supporters' altruism won't lead them to face a new wave of non-discriminatory discrimination triggered by the anti-immigration heat.

The author is a New York-based journalist. rong_xiaoqing@hotmail.com

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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