Barbara Jordan and the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform

Barbara Jordan (1936-1996) was a Civil Rights leader and was the first African-American woman elected to the Texas Senate, in 1966. She was the elected to the U.S Congress and served from 1973 to 1979. She was the first African-American to deliver the keynote address at a Democratic National Convention, in 1976.

Barbara Jordan was appointed chair of the bi-partisan U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform in 1993 by President Bill Clinton. She served in that role until her death in January 1996. She definitively stated:

Credibility in immigration policy can be summed up in one sentence: those who should get in, get in; those who should be kept out, are kept out; and those who should not be here will be required to leave."
- Barbara Jordan, February 24, 1995

The Immigration Act of 1990 required that a bipartisan commission be created to examine the impacts of immigration on the United States and to make recommendations on immigration policy. Chair Barbara Jordan held a press conference in 1995 to release the Commission's recommendations on legal immigration. The Commission then issued its final report in 1997. The Jordan Commission specifically called for:

  • an end to Chain Migration,
  • the end of the Visa Lottery,
  • an annual immigration flow of 550,000 new immigrants per year with a focus on highly-skilled workers, the nuclear family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents,
  • and United States' fair share of refugees and asylees (50,000 per year).

Watch Barbara Jordan's presentation at the 1995 press conference:

The Jordan Commission Recommendations to Prevent Illegal Immigration, compiled by FAIR, include:
  • Border management needs to be reinforced in order to prevent illegal immigration and facilitate legal entries. Increased resources are necessary for additional Border Patrol officers, inspectors, and operational support.
  • Employment magnets for illegal aliens need to be eliminated through worksite enforcement. Economic gains and employment prospects are major pull factors of immigrants- including over-stayers. As Jordan (1995) noted, "roughly one-half of the nation's illegal alien problem results from visitors who entered legally but who do not leave when their time is up. Let me tell you in three simple words why that is: they get jobs…"
  • Eligibility of illegal aliens for publicly-funded services or assistance (except those made available on an emergency basis) is ruled out: "Decisions about eligibility should support our immigration objectives. Accordingly, the Commission recommended against eligibility for illegal aliens "except in most unusual circumstances" (Jordan 1995).
  • Coordinated strategies with foreign governments to address the causes of illegal immigration in sending countries. This can be done through development programs in an attempt to reduce the push factors of migration. Coordination with Mexico is fundamental, given its geographical proximity to the United States and its large flow of migrants.
  • Increase the capacity in detention centers to facilitate the processing and removal of deportable aliens. A credible immigration policy requires the deportation of immigrants who have no right of residence. Going from the premise that "unlawful immigration is unacceptable," the Commission warned against rewarding illegal aliens. If aliens believe they can remain in the States indefinitely, they will be encouraged to enter or reside illegally.
  • Amnesty is out of the question and "deportation is crucial."
The Jordan Commission Recommendations on Immigrant Admissions, compiled by FAIR, include:
  • Reduce immigrant admission by 30 percent (from 822,000 to 550,000 admissions per year).
  • Favor the admission of skilled immigrants instead of admitting immigrants based on extended family relations. The Commission found no justification for the continued entry of low-skilled foreign nationals.
  • End chain migration by allowing immigrants to sponsor only spouses and minor children.
  • Prevent the expansion of guest worker programs for low-skilled workers. The Commission found that low-skilled workers have far too few opportunities open to them: "When immigrants are less well-educated and less skilled, they may pose economic hardships for the most vulnerable of Americans."
  • Eliminate the Visa Lottery (55,000 immigrant visas awarded randomly every year).
  • Scrutinize the basic rules of naturalization. Naturalization should not be an avenue to welfare.
  • Give more attention to the integration process and not just admission policies. The Commission found a great need to emphasize Americanization.

Barbara Jordan emphasized that Americanization (assimilation) was the most important component in the immigration process. She stated in 1995, "That word earned a bad reputation when it was stolen by racists and xenophobes in the 1920s. But it is our word, and we are taking it back."

Barbara Jordan made a number of important statements on immigration policy, some of which include:

The Commission decries hostility and discrimination against immigrants as antithetical to the traditions and interests of this country. At the same time, we disagree with those who would label efforts to control immigration as being inherently anti-immigrant. Rather, it is both a right and a responsibility of a democratic society to manage immigration so that it serves the national interest."
Immigration is far too important to who we are as a nation to become a wedge issue in Presidential politics. We have seen that kind of thing happen before, and it is not productive. I, for one, wish that we would do away with all the hyphenation and just be Americans, together."– February 24, 1995
Immigration policy must protect U.S. workers against unfair competition from foreign workers, with an appropriately higher level of protection to the most vulnerable in our society”– June 28, 1995
Cultural and religious diversity does not pose a threat to the national interest as long as public policies ensure civic unity. Such policies should help newcomers learn to speak, read, and write English effectively. They should strengthen civic education in the teaching of American history for all Americans.... [I]mmigration to the United States should be understood as a privilege, not a right. Immigration carries with it obligations to embrace the common core of the American civic culture, to seek to become able to communicate – to the extent possible – in English with other citizens and residents, and to adapt to fundamental constitutional principles and democratic institutions." – June 28, 1995
As a nation of immigrants committed to the rule of law, this country must set limits on who can enter and back up these limits with effective enforcement of our immigration law." – August 3, 1994
Unless there is a compelling national interest to do otherwise, immigrants should be chosen on the basis of the skills they contribute to the U.S. economy. The Commission believes that admission of nuclear family members and refugees provide such a compelling national interest, even if they are low-skilled. Reunification of adult children and siblings of adult citizens solely because of their family relationship is not as compelling." – June 28, 1995

Read more about Barbara Jordan:

Barbara Jordan’s Vision of Immigration Reform, NumbersUSA.

Barbara Jordan's Legal Immigration Recommendations, NumbersUSA.

The gulf between Barack Obama's immigration stance and Barbara Jordan's, NumbersUSA, November 30, 2012.

Recalling The Americanization Ideal - The Legacy of Barbara Jordan, FAIR.

U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform (2003), FAIR.