Perhaps no other American leader in the 20th Century was as committed to a legal immigration system that was in the national interest of the United States as civil rights leader Barbara Jordan.
After leaving office as the first African-American woman elected to the House of Representatives from the South, Jordan was appointed by then-President Bill Clinton to chair the Commission on Immigration Reform in 1993. That commission would soon become known as the “Jordan Commission,” as it was one of Jordan’s last quests for American justice.
From then until her death in 1996, Jordan would become not only known as a civil rights icon, but also as one of the few Democratic politicians that believed in a pro-American legal immigration system that ceased on inundating working-class neighborhoods with low-skilled immigrants.
Fast-forward to President Donald Trump’s administration and it is not difficult to find the influences of the Jordan Commission in the latest battle by the current populist-nationalist movement to enact a merit-based immigration system that aids U.S. workers, rather than corporate and political interests.
The Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act by Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR) and David Perdue (R-GA) is one of the few immigration overhaul plans that would carry the torch forward for Jordan’s immigration legacy.
“Immigration imposes mutual obligations,” Jordan wrote in a piece for the New York Times in 1995, titled ‘The Americanization Ideal.”
“Those who choose to come here must embrace the common core of American civic culture. We must assist them in learning our common language: American English,” Jordan continued. “We must renew civic education in the teaching of American history for all Americans. We must vigorously enforce the laws against hate crimes and discrimination. We must remind ourselves, as we illustrate for newcomers, what makes us America.”
Under the RAISE Act, the “Americanization” that Jordan so often spoke of would be strengthened by a requirement that legal immigrants coming to the U.S. be skilled in English.
Cotton and Perdue’s legislation also follows through on Jordan’s recommendation that low-skilled immigration -which drives U.S. wages down – and non-merit, family chain migration be entirely abolished, as she famously asserted during a press conference on the Commission’s findings.
“What the Commission is concerned about are the unskilled workers in our society in an age in which unskilled workers have far too few opportunities open to them,” Jordan said.
“When immigrants are less-educated and less-skilled, they may pose economic hardships for the most vulnerable of Americans, particularly for those who are unemployed or underemployed,” Jordan continued.
“The Commission sees no justification for the continued entry of unskilled foreign workers unless the rationale for their admission otherwise serves a significant national interest, as does the admission of nuclear family members and refugees,” Jordan said.
Like Jordan’s recommendations, the RAISE Act creates a merit-based legal immigration system where immigrants are divided into three categories: Nuclear family members, professional immigrants, and refugees.
“Over several decades, we’ve on the one hand seen people who work on their feet and work with their hands see their wages fall—20 percent if you don’t have a high school degree, 2 percent if you have a high school degree,” Cotton previously told Breitbart News. “People with college and advanced degrees are doing just fine. At the same time, we’ve seen record numbers of immigration—almost all of it low-skilled or unskilled immigrants coming here.”
“Of course, that level of immigration is going to hurt the availability of jobs for blue collar workers and put downward pressure on their wages,” Cotton said. “So I think we need to re-orient our immigration system to look out for American citizens—especially those American citizens who have gotten a raw deal in recent decades.”
The RAISE Act would additionally abolish the diversity lottery, where 50,000 visas are given out to foreign nationals every year without mandating any skill-set or English-speaking requirements. The Jordan Commission supported the elimination of this program as well.
Under the Jordan Commission’s recommendations, it was requested that legal immigration admissions be limited to 550,000 immigrants a year. Since 1995, when Jordan made that recommendation, the U.S. has admitted more than 20 million legal immigrants, leading to an immigration crisis where U.S. industries have seen stagnant wages for American workers, while public schools, hospitals, and social services are strained due to a drastically increasing foreign-born population.
Subsequently, Cotton and Perdue’s RAISE Act would limit legal immigration to no more than 500,000 a year, down from the more than a million that are admitted currently every year, and would cap yearly refugee resettlements to 50,000 a year.
For Cotton and Perdue, their RAISE Act has the same tenants as Jordan’s recommendations whereby no immigration policy is enacted unless it benefits Americans.
“A well-regulated system of legal immigration is in our national interest,” Jordan wrote in 1995, not realizing that it would be repeated by populist-nationalists more than two decades later fighting for the same reforms.
John Binder is a reporter for Breitbart Texas. Follow him on Twitter at @JxhnBinder.