U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform

The Commission on Immigration Reform (CIR) was formed by Congress in 1990, to critically examine United States immigration policies. The bipartisan commission was chaired by the late Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, the highly esteemed civil rights advocate, and is often referred to as the Jordan Commission.

In a series of reports submitted between 1994 and 1997, the commission analyzed the impact of current immigration policies and issued recommendations for reform. The spirit of these recommendations was to return U.S. immigration policy to its stated intentions: reuniting nuclear families, providing employers with skilled workers, and providing humanitarian aid to refugees. The commission's primary recommendations were to improve controls against illegal immigration, revamp the refugee and asylee admission system, and reduce legal immigration-recommendations in line with FAIR's.

From the Commission on Immigration Reform's reports to Congress:

"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."

"The Commission decries hostility and discrimination against immigrants as antithetical to the traditions and interests of this country. At the same time, we disagree with those who would label efforts to control immigration as being inherently anti-immigrant. Rather, it is both a right and a responsibility of a democratic society to manage immigration so that it serves the national interest."

Recommendations on Illegal Immigration

The first report issued by the CIR, U.S. Immigration Policy: Restoring Credibility, focused primarily on illegal immigration. Its main recommendations were:

  • Improve border management: The CIR found current enforcement inadequate to deter illegal immigration and increased training for border officials and increased resources for enforcement. It emphasized the need to prevent illegal entry to minimize the need for apprehension afterward.
  • Eliminate the "pull" of jobs: A main motivator for illegal immigration is the ease with which illegal aliens can work in the U.S. The CIR recommended additional barriers to illegal employment, including a computerized registry to verify work eligibility and the full use of already-existing (but seldom invoked) penalties against employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens.
  • Mitigate impact costs: Because immigration policy and enforcement are controlled by the federal government, the CIR recommended that the federal government be responsible for mitigating the fiscal impact of illegal immigration on the states and local communities. This responsibility includes making illegal aliens ineligible for non-emergency public services, holding sponsors financially responsible for the immigrants they sponsor, and assisting states and localities with the financial burden for incarceration, education, emergency medical care, and other costs associated with illegal immigration. (The commission noted that methods for accurately establishing such costs need to be implemented.)

Recommendations on Legal Immigration

The commission's second report, Legal Immigration: Setting Priorities, addressed legal immigration, including family and employment-based immigration, refugee admissions, and naturalization. It concluded that the current immigration system's core element of chain migration was not in accord with national interests and urged the adoption of a new system scaling back significantly on overall immigration levels. It recommended that the U.S.:

  • Simplify immigration categories: The CIR supported the basic set-up of our current immigration system, which divides immigrants into categories, but recommended that the categories be simplified to three: nuclear family members, professional and skilled workers, and refugees/other humanitarian admissions.
  • Reduce legal immigration: The CIR recommended capping all three categories and implementing an overall annual cap of 550,000.
  • Prioritize immediate family members over extended family: The CIR recommended limiting family-sponsored immigration to only the spouse and minor children of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents and the parents of U.S. citizens-with a ceiling of 400,000 per year. It recommended eliminating preferences for siblings and adult offspring.
  • Prioritize skilled workers over unskilled workers: The CIR recommended reducing the ceiling for employment-sponsored immigration, ending unskilled immigration, and ending the diversity visa lottery.
  • Increase enforcement: The commission also stressed enforcement of immigration limits, enforcement of sponsor responsibility, and protection of American workers as basic principles essential to an effective immigration policy.

Recommendations on Refugees

The commission's third report, U.S. Refugee Policy: Taking Leadership, addressed refugees and asylee policy. It recommended admitting refugees based on humanitarian considerations and providing international assistance for the majority of refugees for whom resettlement is not feasible.

A Framework for Immigration Policy

The CIR's fourth and final report, Becoming an American: Immigration and Immigrant Policy, submitted a framework for immigration policy, bringing together all of its earlier recommendations for improved controls against illegal immigration, restructured and reduced legal immigration, and a revised refugee and asylum admission system. It reiterated its call for a new immigration policy in line with the nation's best interests.

Most importantly, from FAIR's perspective, the commission again reiterated the urgent need for reform of the structure for legal immigration.

The CIR's findings can be read in their entirety here.

Updated 6/03