Senate Proposal Adopts Jordan Commission’s Recommendations
Legislative Update By: Liz Jacobs
With the White House’s support, Sens. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and David Perdue (R-GA) introduced a revised version of the RAISE Act, this time calling it the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Economy Act. This version of the RAISE Act overhauls the entire legal immigration system to make it more merit-based. While this measure appears to have taken many mass immigration advocates by surprise, the RAISE Act echoes reforms proposed 20 years ago by the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, otherwise known as the Jordan Commission.
The bipartisan Jordan Commission, chaired by Congresswoman and civil rights champion Barbara Jordan, was authorized by Congress in 1990 to critically examine the entire U.S. immigration system. (Jordan Commission Report; FAIR Issue Brief, February 2014) The Commission’s reform recommendations, which were endorsed by former President Clinton, called for commonsense changes to the outdated immigration system to one that actually recognizes Americans as the primary stakeholders in U.S. immigration policy. (Id.)Like the RAISE Act, the Commission’s numerous policy recommendations supported an overall reduction in immigration and an increased focus on skills-based immigration. (Id.)
The Committee submitted two reports to Congress and President Clinton detailing their reform recommendations. While the first report focused primarily on combatting illegal immigration, the Commission’s second report, Legal Immigration: Setting Priorities, urged numerous proposals to regain credibility in the legal immigration system. (Id.) To serve the national interest, the Commission’s redefined admission priorities and reallocated existing admission numbers. (Id.) “Unless there is a compelling national interest to do otherwise, immigrants should be chosen on the basis of the skills they contribute to the U.S. economy,” the report stated. (Jordan Commission Report)
Specifically, the Commission proposed an immigration system that prioritized skills-based admissions, nuclear family admissions (with spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens given priority over other familial relationships), and refugee/humanitarian admissions. (Id.) Similar to the RAISE Act, the Commission’s proposals also eliminated the visa lottery entirely, which currently awards 50,000 green cards a year to applicants selected at random. (Id.)
The Commission’s report particularly emphasized the need to prioritize the admission of immigrants with skills to advance the United States economy and eliminate guest worker programs for low-skilled workers. (Id.) The Commission found that low-skilled workers have far too few opportunities open to them. “When immigrants are less well-educated and less skilled, they may pose economic hardships for the most vulnerable of Americans,” the report explained. (Id.) The Commission repeatedly stressed that selecting high skill workers who are assets to the American economy is crucial to protect American workers and the overall national interest.
With regard to family-based immigration, the Commission acknowledged that while many extended family members of existing citizens often contribute substantially to American society, the unification of nuclear families must be given priority. (Id.) To accomplish this, the Commission advocated eliminating chain migration, which makes foreign nationals eligible for admission into the United States solely on the basis of an often distant familial connection. Ending chain migration significantly helps eliminate the sometimes decades long-backlog, which the Commission noted is crucial to foster credibility of the immigration system as a whole. (Id.)
Unsurprisingly, in order to protect American workers and promote the national interest broadly, the Commission proposals amounted to an almost thirty percent reduction of total admissions, to approximately 550,000 people per year. (Id.) However, since chain migration has expanded drastically since the mid-nineties, the 550,000 person annual cap would constitute a fifty percent reduction in total admissions today. FAIR commends Senators Cotton and Perdue’s efforts to enact many of the Jordan Commission’s proposals. FAIR urges its members to contact their representatives and encourage them to support the RAISE Act, and similar legislation that reforms immigration law to benefit American workers.