The Houston Chronicle on Monday published an article about Barbara Jordan, the native of Houston who became a civil rights leader, the first black woman elected to the Texas State Senate, and, in 1972, the first black person elected to Congress from Texas since Reconstruction. At the time of her death in 1996 she was the chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform.
As the Chronicle noted, the commission "proposed sharp cuts in immigration to protect American workers, a plan some immigration restriction groups still promote in Jordan's name."
The story then took a surprising turn. It reported that Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who now represents Jordan's old congressional district, believed that if Jordan were alive today she would have different views on immigration. "She believed in giving impoverished people opportunities," Jackson Lee said. "She would have wanted to be both a humanitarian and fix our broken system."
Jackson Lee's statement is self-serving speculation with no basis in fact. Barbara Jordan was always a humanitarian. But she was no utopian. Nor did she pander to Latino voters. She believed the United States could not provide opportunities to its own impoverished people if it did not manage legal immigration and stop mass illegal immigration.
Jordan often talked of the need to strike a balance between two immigration policy values. "The commission decries hostility and discrimination against immigrants as antithetical to the traditions and interests of the country," she said. "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."
Jordan also raised this concern: "Unless this country does a better job in curbing illegal immigration, we risk irreparably undermining our commitment to legal immigration."
The fact that Sheila Jackson Lee now holds Jordan's old congressional seat is emblematic of how far left the Democratic Party and liberals in general have moved from the era when they championed limits on immigration.
Journalist Michael Lind, a native Texan and a liberal who shared Jordan's views, offered this lament about open-borders liberals:
Why have liberals been silent about the economic effects of immigration on their natural constituency — the working poor, and black workers in particular? One reason is the inability of liberals to say no to any apparently generous program, particularly if it aims to help those in poor countries. Another is the influence of Hispanic groups seeking to enlarge their constituencies. Many affluent opinion-makers in politics, the media and academia themselves benefit from a never-ending supply of low-wage immigrant maids, janitors, receptionists and other poorly paid, non-unionized employees.
We cited Lind's comment in our own tribute to Barbara Jordan earlier this year. Lind said Jordan was one of the "few courageous liberals ... [who] have dared to bring up the relationship between mass immigration and falling wages."
There's nothing courageous about Sheila Jackson Lee's position. But there's plenty of political opportunism.