Those interested in or advocating “comprehensive immigration reform” should examine the thoroughly researched, well-documented findings of a federal commission that spent more than five years — and numerous hearings — dealing with exactly that subject.

This was the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, created by Congress as part of the Immigration Act of 1990.1 The Commission had impressive credentials, access to millions in federal funds, and was served by a highly competent staff. It had four Democratic appointees and four Republican ones, and with three chairs who were, in turn, a then-member of the College of Cardinals, a former member of the U.S. House of Representative, and a former member of the president’s cabinet.

It was generally known as the Jordan Commission, named for the late Barbara Jordan, the powerful woman who served the longest period as the Commission’s chairwoman. The Jordan Commission, unlike the current White House, took its time to do its work, and decided, unanimously, that there was no need for an alien legalization program. Its work was summed up in these words:

The credibility of immigration policy can be measured by a simple yardstick: people who should get in, do get in; people who should not get in are kept out; and people who are judged deportable are required to leave.2

The detailed and thoughtful recommendations in the Commission’s 1997 final report,3 called for the nation to:

  • Integrate the immigrants now in the United States more thoroughly;
  • Reduce the total number of legal immigrants to about 550,000 a year;
  • Rationalize the nonimmigrant visa programs and regulate them;
  • Enforce the immigration law vigorously with no further amnesties; and
  • Re-organize the management of the immigration processes within the government.

Most of the recommendations were unanimous. There was a single dissent on the second and fifth group of proposals by one of the commissioners, the former executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

This Backgrounder provides more detail on the Commission’s recommendations, and speculates on why such a rational package should have emerged.

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