Losing Ground to Big Money and Low Information

The first big mistake in U.S. immigration policy was the 1965 “Immigration Reform” Act, which broadened family reunification preference policy from nuclear family (spouses and minor children) to extended family. The extended family policy, which included an endless chain of siblings, parents, and in-laws, resulted in Chain Migration. Chain Migration changed the character of U.S. immigration from limited and selective to an out-of-control immigration tsunami that made immigration an increasing fiscal and social burden on the nation.

The second big mistake was the 1986 Immigration “Reform” Act, which was supposed to give amnesty to a little over a million illegal immigrants, but by document fraud and deliberate leniency wound up being nearly three million. Reagan was uncomfortable with amnesty but agreed to it as a trade to get the enforcement provisions needed to protect American workers and penalize employers who hire illegal immigrants. Once Reagan signed the amnesty, the very Democrats who had promised to back the tough enforcement and penalty provisions began to block and undermine them. According to his Attorney General, Ed Meese, President Reagan later said that signing the 1986 amnesty was the biggest mistake of his eight-year term. It should not have been surprising, however, that amnesty begets more amnesties and greater levels of illegal immigration.

Illegal and legal immigration were so out-of-control by 1990 that Congress mandated a thorough study of immigration issues. The Jordan Commission, named for Rep. Barbara Jordan (D, TX), its Chair for several years, was a bi-partisan committee, which included several prominent civic leaders and distinguished academics. They studied the issues thoroughly for six years. However, their recommendations, presented to President Clinton and Congress in 1997, were ignored by the President and a majority of Congress. Yet those who have studied immigration issues thoroughly and objectively still consider the Jordan Commission Report an extraordinarily credible and thorough blueprint for desperately needed real immigration reform. Here are the most currently relevant of the major recommendations:

• Enforce immigration law vigorously with no further amnesties. Enforcement must also be internal, especially at the workplace, as well as at the border.

[Reducing the employment magnet is the most important measure necessary to deter unlawful immigration.]

• Protect U.S. workers from unfair competition and foreign workers from exploitation and abuse.

• Reduce the total number of legal immigrants to 550,000 annually. Too many legal immigrants can also hurt job prospects and drive down wages for Americans. (Harvard labor economist George Borjas has recommended a 500,000 annual limit to avoid economic and social assimilation problems.)

• Strictly regulate non-immigrant visa programs. Between 40 and 50 percent of illegal immigrants are legal visa violators.

• The Jordan Commission strongly recommended against guest-worker programs, which had hurt U.S. workers, taxpayers, and communities in the past, and actually increased illegal immigration. For example, many legal agricultural guest-workers violate their visas and take a better job in construction or retail. In addition, guest-worker programs result in unacceptable numbers of birthright citizenships—over 300,000 per year.

[The annual quota for the H-2A temporary agricultural guest-worker program is actually unlimited. Even though its provisions are structured to prevent loss of American job opportunities it needs to be further reformed by restricting its numbers, while streamlining its administrative provisions, assuring their consistent enforcement, but making the program more workable and usable to farmers. Illegal agricultural workers are a surprisingly small percentage of illegal immigrants. Most guest-worker programs, however, should be phased out.

• Eliminate the Extended Family provisions of the 1965 law.

• Restrict the eligibility of illegal immigrants from publicly-funded services or assistance except on an emergency basis.

• Emphasize nuclear family reunification and objectively substantiated skill shortages to prioritize immigration numbers. Avoid accumulations of unskilled labor likely to require public support in the future.

Under President Clinton, enforcement efforts began to give way to a de facto policy of reducing enforcement to encourage more immigration.  Six supplemental amnesties from 1994 to 2000, giving more than three million additional amnesties subsequently multiplied our immigration problems and mauled the credibility of U.S. immigration policy.

Republican President George W. Bush also ignored the Jordan Commission recommendations. Under Bush, enforcement of immigration laws at the workplace dropped sharply and reached a new low in 2006 with near zero enforcement. Bush attempted or backed  large amnesties in 2001, 2004, 2006, and 2007, but he was blocked by conservatives in his own party. The number of illegal immigrants in the country increased by nearly five million during his two-year term.

Real immigration reform is being blocked by two principal forces: Liberal politicians who want to import more social-welfare oriented voters and businesses that want more cheap labor regardless of the consequences to the country. Both forces rely on low public information on immigration issues for political success. President Obama and the Democrat Party are the best representatives of the first group. The biggest and most powerful lobby for the second group is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its affiliated associations and corporations.  Unfortunately, the Chamber’s enormous financial contributions to Republican candidates have captured the Republican leadership in the U.S. House (John Boehner), the U.S .Senate (Mitch McConnell), and the Republican National Committee, headed by Reince Priebus. Although a substantial majority of Republican House members and a majority of Republican Senators oppose amnesty and want immigration laws enforced, the progressive Republican minority, especially the Republican leadership, combined with near unanimous Democrat support to allow President Obama to get away with violating the Constitution, opening our borders, and giving millions of unconstitutional administrative amnesties.

Senator Jeff Sessions (R, AL) recently said of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:

“The Chamber’s primary goal has never been to establish a lawful immigration system and secure our borders, but to get as much cheap labor as possible—regardless of how it impacts American workers, legal immigrants, and taxpayers in general.”

Real immigration reform is being cast aside, and our founding principles, our freedoms, and our country are teetering on the edge of destruction because immigration is being made a sacred cow and used to gain political power and unscrupulous profit.


Leonard M. (Mike) Scruggs is the author of Lessons from the Vietnam War: Truths the Media Never Told You, 2009; and The Un-Civil War: Shattering the Historical Myths, 2011.


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Mike Scruggs