Immigration Deja Vu

In 1990, a bipartisan commission was formed in Congress in order to critically address our Immigration system, and what could be done to reform it. The commission was chaired by civil rights leader and Texas’ first female representative in Congress, Barbara Jordan. Jordan unfortunately died in 1996, but the full report and recommendations was published the following year.

The report made several conclusions on the issues our immigration system faced then and still does today. President Trump recently shared his goals for reforming our immigration system in an open letter to congress. The letter shows that while Trump maintains conservative views on some points, he has also learned from the recommendations made over twenty years prior.

The Jordan Commission report is a comprehensive study on immigration into the United States, both through legal and illegal means. The commission was determined to remain true to the American vision and spirit of individuality and opportunity, and with that carefully examine how to properly reform the aging immigration system. It however did not pull any punches; the bipartisan group made clear that its findings were in the best interest of both America’s immigrants and the nation as a whole.

“Immigration to the United States has created one of the world’s most successful multicultural nations.” The report states. “Properly-regulated immigration and immigrant policy serves the national interest by ensuring the entry of those who will contribute most to our society and helping lawful newcomers adjust to life in the United States. It must give due consideration to shifting economic realities.”

It continues, “A well-regulated system sets priorities for admission; facilitates nuclear family reunification; gives employers access to a global labor market while protecting U.S. workers; helps to generate jobs and economic growth; and fulfills our commitment to resettle refugees as one of several elements of humanitarian protection of the persecuted.”

With that in mind, the Commission made a series of recommendations for reform, firstly an increased focus on naturalization of immigrants into American culture and society, through both English and civics education programs. It requested a reduction of legal immigration admittance by 1/3, which in 1997 would total 550,000 entrants annually, and a move towards skill-based immigration. This included prioritizing immediate family reunification as opposed to extended family entrants, which has been known to lead to “chain migration.”

The report suggested to provide protections to American workers in order to avoid unfair competition, and avoid labor abuse against immigrants. As such, the admission of unskilled workers would be drastically reduced, unless with other compelling cases such as refugee resettlement and family reunification. However, it admitted that reorganization of management in federal immigration processes was sorely needed, including thorough assessment of the criteria used to admit refugees for resettlement and the procedures for their admission.

In regards to illegal immigration, the report flatly stated that in order to deter further illegal immigration, rigorous enforcement of existing immigration law would be required. It also recommended no further amnesties, as past actions had only further encouraged illegal entry. This would also mean increased border enforcement and security, and the inclusion of electronic verification for employment, known today as “E-Verify,” to discourage the hiring of illegal labor.

The findings of the Jordan Commission, as seen today, have been largely ignored. Those who have read President Trump’s letter on immigration, his quixotic wall withstanding, will find that many of his requests are similar if not exact to those found in the Jordan report. These include a change to merit based immigration, the establishment of electronic employment verification, a reduction in legal immigration, an increase in our systems efficiency, and a general tightening of standards for admittance.

We cannot expect total agreement on the subject of immigration reform, but almost all can agree that there are serious issues with our system that require substantial change. We believe, that for the good of the country, our environment, and for future immigrants, that we take the recommendations of the Jordan Commission to heart.

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