“Chain migration” and 4 other powerful terms politicians use to mislead you

If we’ve learned anything when it comes to politics, it’s that words matter. Especially in the age of Donald Trump and “alternative facts,” it’s more important than ever to be aware of when something a politician says is actually a dog whistle for something racist or abjectly false or gaslighting. Unfortunately, our entire government system is set up on the assumption that we are, to some extent, supposed to trust our leaders. So when they use code words like “chain migration” or “partial birth abortion,” we end up thinking that those terms actually mean something, which, when you get to the bottom of it, they truly do not.

One of the most misleading terms used by the Trump administration these days is “chain migration,” and it’s actually being used in the mainstream media, further normalizing the term.

For anti-immigration advocates, saying “chain migration” is more evocative than using the actual word for this type of immigration policy: “family reunification.”

Family reunification is the idea that if someone comes to the U.S. and establishes some legal residency, they are then able to bring certain other family members here to join them, like a spouse or child.

Family reunification is a good thing, actually. Stanford professor Tomas Jimenez tells NPR:

"You know, an immigrant comes here and then brings over their family members and ultimately creates a community. The kind of anchoring set of migrants will help subsequent migrants find housing, find jobs, help them feel like they have a cultural home. And that has actually been true for as long as we've had migration to the United States."

But “chain migration” sounds scarier, right? It kinda sounds like there’s this dark network of people plotting their entrance into the U.S. en masse. It also makes the process of following a family member into U.S. residency sound easy, which it is not. Families are reunified slowly under our current immigration system, with each person having to establish residency or citizenship before bringing their loved ones to come live with them. Basically, “chain migration” isn’t a real thing, and we should make sure to correct each other and the media when they use it, which will only remind you how pervasive these kinds of terms are. Here are a few others.

1“Gun control”

When we debate about gun safety or gun violence prevention, we often use the term “gun control,” which is a term that the NRA and conservative politicians use to reframe the conversation. After a mass shooting or when talking about gun violence, the NRA likes to make it seem like liberals want to “take all guns away” or control how people live their gun-loving lives. (Some do, for sure, but most of us just want our gun laws to make sense, and think that access to assault rifles for civilians are pretty absurd.)

This is misleading. A better way to talk about the issues is to get away from charged political language that sets it up as a debate and focus on what’s really needed: better ways to prevent gun violence and how to make sure everyone with a gun is using it safely and for its intended purpose. It might seem like a small tweak, but it can mean everything when debating with a staunch NRA supporter.

2“Partial birth abortions”


Partial birth abortion is not a medical term and it’s very manipulative to use. Doctors use the term, “dilation and evacuation” or “D&X,” because that’s actually what happens. It’s used by the anti-choice movement to evoke an emotional response to what is actually a pretty serious medical procedure. The term was coined by the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) in 1995 to describe a procedure in which a fetus is removed from the womb once it is already no longer developing properly or won’t survive after birth. It’s most often done to protect the life of the mother. Yet, politicians use the incorrect term — we even have laws that specifically use this unscientific term — to conflate abortion with murder.


The pro-life movement calls themselves this to make it appear as if they are advocating for the rights of human lives. What they really are is against the rights and well being of a woman, especially when they oppose abortion procedures that don’t make exemptions for rape or incest or force a woman to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term, deliver fetuses that won’t live after birth, or put their own lives at risk. They’re anti-choice, not pro-life, and it’s so important to never get that confused.

4“Climate change debate”

There is actually no debate among climate scientists about whether climate change is real or caused by humans. When politicians pretend like it’s still “up for debate,” what they’re really saying is that they have a lot of donors who would prefer more lax environmental regulations to allow them to keep polluting. Words matter when we’re talking about the big issues, so it’s important to call out the weasel words when you hear them.