While it is true that there was a time when there was no visa requirement, nevertheless, there was a self-regulated immigration policy that was based on merit. Early in American history, there was a need to populate large areas of open land. However, those people who came had to sink or swim. Their "merit" was based on their physical abilities. If you worked hard, you were rewarded. If you failed, you often ended up in a pauper’s grave. There was no government program to support you. Any outside support that existed, at that time, was based on private charity, not government funding.
Mr. Laskin's example of what he suggests is a form of chain migration is anything but that. His great-grandfather worked hard and once he saved his money, he was able to bring over his oldest son. If this was truly an example of chain migration, he should have first brought over his true love, his wife. No, he brought over his most able-bodied relative, his oldest son. Together they worked hard, shared expenses and were eventually able to afford to bring over the rest of their family. All this was done without chain-granted visas.
This was the American way. Historically, that meant that those people who would sponsor relatives took responsibility for those whom they brought over. Asylum visas were reserved for people who are threatened, because we are a good people.Today, we recognize that close relatives will be granted visas.
For those you claim that if not for chain migration their family would have wiped out in WWII forget just how hard it was to actually get a visa. When it came to Jews trying to escape religious persecution, the door was generally closed. In fact, during the Holocaust, many Jews were unable to gain entry because of these insurmountable requirements. One of the great Jewish philosophers, Abraham Joshua Heschel, barely made it out of Europe. Had Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati given him an employment guarantee and had not my father personally hand-carried his visa application to America, he likely would have died in Europe.