The Trump administration declared this week a day to be Barbara Jordan Day, the 22nd anniversary of the legendary former Texas congresswoman’s passing. Presidents often make such declarations to honor heroes from our country’s past. However, Jordan was no relic from a bygone era. She was a trailblazer on many issues, not the least of which was immigration policy. Our country would greatly benefit if more of the players in the current immigration debate shared her vision.
Jordan was an icon and a pioneer, but didn’t fit into the neat categories of the modern political landscape. She is primarily known for a series of firsts: First African-American elected to the Texas Senate after Reconstruction, first Southern African-American woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and the first African-American woman to deliver the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. She also gave a memorable opening statement at the House Judiciary Committee hearings during impeachment proceedings against Richard Nixon.
With that resume, and by today’s politics, one would assume Jordan would be an open borders advocate who endorsed all the Democratic Party’s platform positions on border security, sanctuary cities, chain migration and the visa lottery. That assumption would be wrong. Jordan was a staunch proponent of an America-first immigration policy that sought to have new arrivals be a benefit, not a burden, to the country.
Though a lifelong, loyal Democrat, Jordan staked out positions on immigration that would today make her a pariah in her party. As the chair of the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform from 1994-1996, Jordan advocated for increased restriction of immigration, and increased penalties on employers who violated immigration rules. Her rhetoric was ahead of its time considering the pro-enforcement sentiment that swept Donald Trump into the White House in 2016.
Under her leadership, the commission conducted a sweeping, bipartisan review of U.S. immigration policy. In that report, informally known as the Jordan Commission, she debunked concepts of illegal immigration that have found support today.
“For immigration to continue to serve our national interest, it must be lawful,” she wrote. “There are people who argue that some illegal aliens contribute to our community because they may work, pay taxes, send their children to our schools, and in all respects except one, obey the law. Let me be clear: that is not enough.”
As Republicans and Democrats wrangle over the future of immigration policy, some Jordanian common sense should be applied. Namely, we need to ask those opposed to reform why they do not support policies that would protect American lives, prosper Americans, and improve the upward mobility of legal immigrants and the vulnerable. Should the priority of our elected leaders be to improve the lives of American citizens, or allow corrupt regimes to export their poverty problem to us?
While she was chair of the commission, Jordan argued that "it is both a right and a responsibility of a democratic society to manage immigration so that it serves the national interest." Rarely will you hear a more succinct and relevant statement on immigration than that.
We need to make immigration work for Americans. Allowing a mass influx of low-skilled foreign nationals to violate
our laws is a bad proposition. Bad for American citizens, who see their wages driven downward and are vulnerable to a dangerous criminal element; bad for legal immigrants, who played by the rules and saw that effort mocked by others who essentially cheated and were rewarded; and bad for the new arrivals, many of whom are ill-equipped to assimilate into American life and face the prospect of grinding poverty and long-term government dependence. If unfettered illegal immigration benefits anyone, it may be opportunistic politicians who see a permanent underclass whose votes can be obtained with the promise of generous social service benefits.
Barbara Jordan may be gone, but her work on immigration is a shining light for our path forward. Amnesty and “comprehensive immigration reform” is a road to poverty and lawlessness.
A merit-based, America-first policy is the only way to a prosperous, secure future.