Conflicting feelings about 'chain migration' on display at State of the Union

Some view it as a racial slur.

— -- The relative silence from the Democratic side of the House chamber was on display at the State of the Union on Tuesday night, but there was one very noticeable break.

"I was surprised that that was the one moment that there were boos that I remember," said Jessica Vaughan, the director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies.

The term -- chain migration -- has come under fire amid the ongoing immigration debate, with a number of Democratic senators and advocacy groups calling it racist.

"I think a lot of President Trump's rhetoric is racist and let's be very clear: When someone uses the phrase 'chained migration' ... it is intentional in trying to demonize families -- literally trying to demonize families -- and make it a racist slur and it is not right. And so we have to change the debate," Gillibrand said on ABC's "The View."

Experts from conservative groups, including Vaughan, disagree with the backlash over the term.

"The term chain migration has been around for decades and decades and it's widely used among scholars of immigration and policy experts," Vaughan told ABC News this morning. "It's always been a very benign term."

"It's a term that everyone has used for a long time and all the sudden it becomes off limits when people disagree with the reforms," Vaughan told ABC News.

The term is used to describe the chain-like way that people are allowed to apply for legal immigration to the U.S. after a certain relative lives in the country.

Those who oppose the term, like Diane Rish, the associate director of government relations at the American Immigration Lawyers Association, claim that it "makes it seem like there's this chain in place when at the end of the day it's really all about family reunification."

Under the current system, immediate relative immigrant visas are intended for the spouse of a U.S. citizen, unmarried children of the citizen under the age of 21, parents of a U.S. citizen who is at least 21 years old, and orphans either already adopted abroad or to be adopted abroad by the U.S. citizen. After that group, there are four categories of other relatives who can be granted family preference immigrant visas: unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens and their children, married children of citizens and their spouses or children, brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens and their spouses and children, and the spouses, minor children and unmarried children of lawful permanent residents.

The immigration plan proposed by the Trump administration does not get rid of such family-based immigrant visas but limits them. In the State of the Union speech, Trump billed it as a way to "protect the nuclear family."

"Under our plan, we focus on the immediate family, by limiting sponsorships to spouses and minor children," he said.

"They bring out the racism claim as a way to try and shut down debate," he told ABC News.