Bill Clinton's 1993 Immigration Reform Commission

In 1993, President Clinton appointed former Representative Barbara Jordan as the head of the Congressionally appointed bi-partisan U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform.  Jordon was elected to the U.S. House of Representative in 1972 - the first black woman from the Deep South - and served in Congress for 6 years.  She was a liberal Democrat.  The Commission was authorized by the Immigration Act of 1990 to advise the Congress on immigration policy.

Highlights from the Commission report
Underlying Principles

Certain basic principles underlie the Commission’s work. The Commission decries hostility and discrimination against immigrants as antithetical to the traditions and interests of the 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.

The Commission is mindful of the problems that also emanate from immigration. In particular, we believe that unlawful immigration is unacceptable. 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.

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 has concluded, however, that more needs to be done to guarantee that the stated goals of our immigration policy are met. The immediate need is more effective prevention and deterrence of unlawful immigration. This report to Congress out-lines the Commission’s recommendations in this area.


Serious problems undermine present immigration policies, their implementation, and their credibility: people who should get in find a cumbersome process that often impedes their entry; people who should not get in find it all too easy to enter; and people who are here without permission remain with impunity.

The Commission is convinced that unlawful immigration can be controlled consistent with our traditions, civil rights, and civil liberties. As a nation with a long history of immigration and commitment to the rule of law, this country must set limits on who can enter and then must credibly enforce our immigration law.
Unfortunately, no quick and easy solutions are available. The United States can do a more effective job, but only with additional financial resources and the political will to take action. Our recommendations for a comprehensive, effective strategy follow.

The Commission supports the strategy, now being tested as “Operation Hold the Line” in El Paso, that emphasizes prevention of illegal entry at the border, rather than apprehension following illegal entry.
Prevention holds many advantages: it is more cost-effective than apprehension and removal; it eliminates the cycle of voluntary return and reentry that has characterized unlawful border crossings; and it reduces potentially violent confrontations on the border. The Commission recommends:

• Increased resources for prevention, including additional staff, such improved technology as sensors and infrared scopes, data systems that permit expeditious identification of repeat offenders, and such additional equipment as vehicles and radios.

• Increased training for border control officers to execute strategies that emphasize prevention of illegal entry.

• Formation of a mobile, rapid response team to improve Border Patrol anticipation of new smuggling sites and to augment their capacity at these locations. The Immigration and Naturalization Service [INS] must develop a capacity to respond quickly to changing patterns of unlawful immigration along the land border. Also, contingency plans should be developed to address increased boat arrivals that may arise from improved land border enforcement.

• Use of fences to reduce border violence and facilitate enforcement. However, the Commission does not support the erection of extraordinary physical barriers, such as unscaleable walls, unless needed as a last resort to stop violence when other means have proved ineffective. Fences have been used effectively in San Diego to reduce border violence, deter illegal aliens from running across the interstate highway that leads from Mexico, and facilitate enforcement.

• Systematic evaluation of the effectiveness of any new border strategies by INS. The typical measurements of Border Patrol effectiveness - apprehension rates - have little meaning in assessing a prevention strategy. INS should develop new evaluation techniques that measure the effects of border management efforts in terms of the flow of unauthorized aliens and their impacts on U.S. communities.

The Commission believes that port of entry operations can be improved. Legal entry at the border should be facilitated as the United States benefits from trade, tourism, family visits and consumer spending.

The Commission supports increased coordination on border issues between the governments of the U.S. and Mexico. The Commission views favorably the discussions underway between the U.S. and Mexican governments. These discussions promote greater cooperation between the two governments in solving problems of mutual concern.


The Commission believes that reducing the employment magnet is the linchpin of a comprehensive strategy to reduce illegal immigration. The ineffectiveness of employer sanctions, prevalence of fraudulent documents, and continued high numbers of unauthorized workers, combined with confusion for employers and reported discrimination against employees, have challenged the credibility of current worksite enforcement efforts. The Commission supports vigorous enforcement of labor standards and enforcement against knowing hire of unauthorized workers as an integral part of the strategy to reduce illegal immigration. Labor standards and employer sanctions should be seen as mutually reinforcing.

A better system for verifying work authorization is central to the effective enforcement of employer sanctions.

The Commission recommends development and implementation of a simpler, more fraud-resistant system for verifying work authorization. The current system is doubly flawed: it is too susceptible to fraud, particularly through the counterfeiting of documents; and it can lead to increased discrimination against foreign-looking or foreign-sounding authorized workers.

The Commission also recommends action that would reduce the fraudulent access to so-called “breeder documents,” particularly birth certificates, that can be used to establish an identity in this country.

To address the abuse of fraudulent documents, the Commission recommends imposition of greater penalties on those producing or selling such documents. Document fraud and counterfeiting has become a lucrative and well-organized operation that may involve international networks that conspire to produce and sell the resulting fraudulent products. These documents are used in smuggling and terrorist operations, as well as for work authorization. RICO provisions designed to facilitate racketeering investigations should cover conspiracy to produce and sell fraudulent documents. Criminal penalties should also be increased for large-scale counterfeiting activities.


The U.S. has the sovereign authority to make distinctions as to certain rights and responsibilities of various people subject to its jurisdiction—illegal aliens, legal immigrants, and U.S. citizens. Policies regarding the eligibility of aliens for public benefits should be consistent with the objectives of our immigration policy.

The Commission recommends that illegal aliens should not be eligible for any publicly-funded services or assistance except those made available on an emergency basis or for similar compelling reasons to protect public health and safety (e.g., immunizations and school lunch and other child nutrition programs) or to conform to constitutional requirements. Illegal aliens are now eligible for few benefit programs. The Commission firmly believes that benefits policies should continue to send this message: if aliens enter the U.S. unlawfully, they will not receive aid except in limited instances. Federal legislation should permit states and localities to limit eligibility of illegal aliens on this same basis. Should illegal aliens require other forms of assistance, their only recourse should be return to their countries of origin.

The Commission recommends against any broad, categorical denial of public benefits to legal immigrants. The United States admits legal immigrants with the expectation that they will reside permanently in the United States as productive residents. Therefore, the Commission believes that:

• Sponsors should be held financially responsible for the immigrants that they bring to this country. In particular, the Commission believes that the affidavits of support signed by sponsors should be legally enforceable, with contingencies made if the sponsor’s financial circumstances change significantly for reasons that occurred after the immigrant’s entry. Mechanisms should be developed that would ensure that sponsors actually provide the support they have promised. This would protect recent immigrants and close a loophole in current policy wherein the sponsor’s income is “deemed,” or taken into account, in calculating the immigrant’s eligibility, regardless of whether such support is actually available to the immigrant.

• A serious effort to enhance and enforce the public charge provisions in immigration law is needed to ensure that legal immigrants do not require public assistance within five years of entry for reasons that existed prior to entry. The Commission recommends modification in the procedures for deporting such individuals. The sustained use of public benefits for reasons that existed prior to entry should become the basis for deportation. Current practices are unreasonable: the government is required to show that the benefit program requested repayment of the aid under a specific statute and that the immigrant has refused repayment.

The Commission recommends that comprehensive categories of aliens in the U.S. be defined in the Immigration and Nationality Act to simplify determination of eligibility for public benefits. The Commission believes that benefit eligibility determinations are complicated by the myriad legal statuses now afforded to individuals within this country. While the rights of lawful permanent residents, refugees and asylees have been spelled out in the Immigration and Nationality Act and/or benefit laws, it is also true that the Congress, Executive Branch, and the courts have created various other statuses that may or may not denote benefit eligibility.  


An effective procedure for prompt removal of aliens ordered deported is an essential part of a credible deterrence policy. If unlawful aliens believe that they can remain indefinitely once they are within our national borders, there will be increased incentives to try to enter or remain illegally. The top priority of enforcement strategies should be the removal of criminal aliens from the U.S. in such a way that the potential for their return to the U.S. will be minimized.