You may be surprised to hear about all these “migrants” that the United States has apparently been “resettl[ing].” After all, the word migrants tends to imply the mass movement of a population from one place to another, and the concept of resettlement implies that the government had some role in their placement, perhaps moving them into designated zones or camps. And a college arena’s worth of people every week would be about 500,000 individuals per year. Who are these massive roaming, stateless hordes that the U.S. has been burdening itself with?
Well, if you read the text that goes with the chart, you’ll realize the White House is not referring to refugee resettlement (which does take place here on a much smaller scale than what’s being described) but to legal family-based immigration. That’s the system, in place since 1965, of offering preferred status to prospective immigrants who are seeking to join family members who already legally reside in the U.S. So rather than being some sort of needy, giant population that has to be managed by the government, we’re actually talking about individuals who are engaged in the completely above-board, fully documented process of moving here to join established families, a practice that nativist right-wing politicians—Trump among them—like to refer to as “chain migration” because “chain” sounds more viral and sinister than “family.” (The word migrant in particular seems very much like a dog whistle to the far-right/Breitbart audience, which is accustomed to regular updates on the alleged rape menace presented by Syrian refugees and other literal migrants in Europe.)
The Trump administration’s attacks on said “chain migration” have been particularly aggressive in the weeks since an individual who was able to enter the country because of family connections attempted to bomb the New York City subway in December. It seems likely that this push has been supported in particular by attorney general Jeff Sessions and his former-aide-turned-Trump-adviser Stephen Miller, two nationalists who believe the legal immigration system should restrict the entry of individuals who don’t fit a certain archaic Anglo-Saxon archetype of American-ness. Miller has a long history of whining in public about people of non-European ancestry, while Sessions once praised a 1924 law that restricted immigration by Jews and Italians for having helped create the U.S.’ “solid middle class.” (One of the experts appointed by Congress to write that law believed that individuals from southern and Eastern Europe were “intellectually and morally defective.”)
In addition to conveying the administration’s general sense of contempt for an enormous chunk of the very “American people” it’s supposed to be working on behalf of, the language described above is significant because it underlines what seems to be the main sticking point in the Senate’s attempt to come up with a DACA bill that the president will sign: He (or at least the hardliners who may or may not be influencing him on any given day) also demand that any such bill include radical changes to the legal immigration system that will prioritize “merit” and likely have the practical effect of making the immigration pool more white. After all, the opposite of a “migrant” from some “shithole” is a Norwegian.