Barbara Jordan wasn’t assassinated like her heroes John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy, but her untimely death, at age 59, in January 1996 would leave comparable effects on the future America. The terror attacks on Paris have shined new light on America’s immigration policies with at least 10 governors announcing Monday they are refusing to accept Syrian refugees to their states.
Jordan was the first woman elected to Congress from Texas and the first Southern African-American ever elected to the House of Representatives. While she amassed a prominent record civil rights victories in Texas state politics, she gained much recognition for giving a keynote address at the 1976 Democratic convention. Jordan crowned her legacy in American politics by chairing the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform for President Bill Clinton in the 1990s.
“In particular, we believe that unlawful immigration is unacceptable,” Jordan affirmed. “Enforcement efforts have not been effective in deterring unlawful immigration. This failure to develop effective strategies to control unlawful immigration has blurred the public perception of the distinction between legal and illegal immigrants.”
During congressional testimony the year before her death, Jordan presented the commission’s vision of immigration reform, saying “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,” Jordan emphasized. “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.”
Jordan’s six-year in-depth study was the last bipartisan U.S. Commission on Immigration. When Jordan died, it was as if all the collective wisdom gained was lost with her. In retrospect, it appears 1996 was to be the most recent effort to manage immigration in the interest of the nation rather than for special interests and political agendas.
The humble Jordan, had worked her way up from being poor to becoming a lawyer. Later, she became a professor of ethics, a receiver of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and a first-class orator. When Clinton appointed her to head the commission, Jordan resolved that her responsibility was to restore credibility to the U.S. immigration system.
“Unlawful immigration is unacceptable,” Jordan made it clear. “Those who should not be here will be required to leave.”
“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,” Jordan noted. “Let me be clear: that is not enough.”
Jordan’s identified her concerns are “the impact of immigration on the most disadvantaged within our already resident society — inner city youth, racial and ethnic minorities, and recent immigrants who have not yet adjusted to life in the U.S.”
Jordan strived to “ensure that immigration is based on and supports broad national economic, social, and humanitarian interests, rather than the interests of those who would abuse our laws” by gaining “effective control over our borders while still encouraging international trade, investment, and tourism.”
Her intent was to “maintain a civic culture based on shared values while accommodating the large and diverse population admitted through immigration policy.”
“The Commission supports the broad framework for immigration policy that these laws represent: a legal immigration system that strives to serve the national interest in helping families to reunify and employers to obtain skills not available in the U.S. labor force; a refugee system that reflects both our humanitarian beliefs and international refugee law; and an enforcement system that seeks to deter unlawful immigration through employer sanctions and tighter border control.”
“The Commission has concluded, however, that more needs to be done to guarantee that the stated goals of our immigration policy are met,” Jordan announced. “The immediate need is more effective prevention and deterrence of unlawful immigration.”
Before her death, the 1995 Jordan Commission report on legal immigration called for major reductions in the numbers of legal immigrants allowed into the United States.
Some of her most famous quotes include:
- “Do not call for black power or green power. Call for brain power.”
- “A nation is formed by the willingness of each of us to share the responsibility of upholding the common good.”
- “We must exchange the philosophy of excuse–what I am is beyond my control–for the philosophy of responsibility.”