AUSTIN (KXAN) — President Donald Trump surprised many when he honored Barbara Jordan, and claimed he shared similar ideas on immigration as the Democratic politician and civil rights leader.
The White House sent a presidential message on Jan. 17, the 22nd anniversary of her death, praising Jordan for “adopting an immigration policy that puts American citizens first.” Jordan emerged as an icon after she became the first African-American woman to serve in the Texas Senate and the first woman from Texas to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.
In her role as chairman of the U.S. Commission on Immigration in the 1990s, Jordan championed ending chain migration, which critics say puts Americans at competition with low-skilled foreign workers. The Jordan Commission also called for the use of an electronic employment verification system known as E-Verify to determine one’s eligibility to work.
“Immigration is a privilege,” Jordan said during an address in 1995. “It is a privilege granted by the people of the United States to those we choose to admit.” She emphasized her commission’s conclusion that a properly-regulated legal immigration system is in the national interest.
President Trump drew similarities between Jordan’s and his administration’s immigration policies in the White House’s statement. He says Jordan’s approach inspired him to “pass legislation that secures our southern border with a wall, stops chain migration, and ends the visa lottery program once and for all.”
Experts say Trump’s perspective on the national interest of immigration differs from Jordan’s.
“When you think about these things, you’ve got to put yourself back 20 years ago.” said Ruth Wasem, policy practice professor at the University of Texas Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. “It’s the 21st century. A lot has changed about the workforce, about the abilities to travel around countries and what our priorities are. We have many more refugees in the world.”
The Trump administration zeroed in on a few things Jordan said which served their purpose, Wasem said.
“Is Barbara Jordan someone who’s likely to be on the same page as President Trump when it comes to national interest?” Wasem asked. “I don’t think that they would use the term ‘national interest’ in the same way, because they’re coming at the question from two very different perspectives.”
“She was trying to find that middle path in a very divisive world of people that wanted to increase immigration and people that wanted to restrict it … and all of whom recognized that our current system isn’t working,” Wasem said.