Barbara Jordan died 20 years ago Sunday. As a Democrat, she shared her fellow liberals’ erroneous views – but not the wicked ones. Her patriotism and unwavering support for the Constitution were famously evident at the Watergate hearings. But they were most consequential in her role as chairwoman of the bipartisan U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform.
The Jordan Commission’s reports called for tightening enforcement and cutting legal immigration by limiting family chain migration and eliminating the idiotic Visa Lottery. They formed the basis of legislation that might well have passed had her death not enabled President Bill Clinton to weasel out from under his earlier pledge of support; he was thus freed to ally with the corporate/leftist front led by Republican senator Spencer Abraham to kill the bill.
Jordan’s statements on immigration will strike ordinary people as common sense, banal even. But over the past two decades we’ve seldom heard even Republicans saying anything like them; any Democrat who did so today would be disowned and shunned.
This first statement has particular resonance at a time when the current administration is unwilling to deport any but a handful of the thousands of Central Americans surging across the Rio Grande:
Deportation is crucial. 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. The top priorities for detention and removal, of course, are criminal aliens. But for the system to be credible, people actually have to be deported at the end of the process.
And Jordan didn’t peddle the “legal good, illegal bad” fraud so beloved of politicians. This is from a speech delivered a few months before her death, and could be read verbatim today by Jeff Sessions:
The commission finds no national interest in continuing to import lesser-skilled and unskilled workers to compete in the most vulnerable parts of our labor force. Many American workers do not have adequate job prospects. We should make their task easier to find employment, not harder.
Instead of the Commission’s call for a one-third reduction in legal immigration, we’ve witnessed a one-third increase. Had Barbara Jordan lived she would have been able to use her enormous store of moral capital to shame Congress and the president into doing the right thing 20 years ago, and the immigration debate would sound very different today. Immigration is eventually going to be reduced, but her premature death ensured that the process will be messier and more contentious than it needed to be, with many more Americans harmed by excessive immigration than needed to be. If “the supreme function of statesmanship is to provide against preventable evils,” then Barbara Jordan was truly a statesman.
(My colleague Jerry Kammer has penned a compact appreciation of Jordan’s life and her role in the immigration debate.)