Authored by Catherine Findorak
In August of 1981, joint committees of the U.S. house and senate released the final report of the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy (SCIRP), entitled U.S. Immigration Policy and the National Interest (1981). Based on years of work, the final report of the commission recommended “closing the back door to undocumented/illegal migration, opening the front door a little more to accommodate legal migration in the interests of this country” (U.S. Congress 1981, 3) and stressed the need to work with other countries to improve the conditions that cause migration and exile (Fragomen 1981).
During the course of the commission’s work, twelve public hearings were held which allowed the commission to hear the voices of experts and citizens in formal and open mike formats. In my volunteer work weeding the Garner J. Cline papers for the archive at the Center for Migration Studies of New York, I stumbled upon the Select Commission’s January 1980 Newsletter, which detailed the voices heard at one hearing, on December 17, 1979 in San Antonio, Texas (Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy 1980, 1-4). Garner J. Cline was the Staff Director of the House Committee on the Judiciary during the time of the SCIRP, and an interview with him can be found on page four of the newsletter. Cline was quoted as saying, “I think the mood of the country is again growing more conservative with regard to immigration law…But maybe the Commission can zero in on those issues that people generally fail to understand or to recognize, for instance, the full impact of the illegal alien in the United States, both domestically and internationally” (1980, 4-5)
Through this newsletter, we see proof of the difficulty of true immigration reform. There are competing interests, complex economic issues, and issues of inequality to grapple with before immigration reform can make necessary changes. Cline was apt in noticing the effect of shifting conservative attitudes towards immigration and the difficulty of creating workable immigration reform in the face of public misinformation and misunderstanding.
A few years later in 1984, a New York Times article speculated that Cline was a driving force in the collapse of a comprehensive immigration reform bill the year before (Pear 1984). Despite the work of the Select Commission in years prior, there were still a multitude of competing interests standing in the way of immigration reform. The bill in question forbid employers from hiring illegal immigrants and was opposed by many Hispanic immigrant rights groups because of fear of employment discrimination. The article quotes Lawrence Fuchs, executive director of SCRIP, who said that Cline believed immigration reform to be “impossible” (Pear 1984, 3).
Spending the time and money on forming a select commission on an issue speaks to a certain kind of optimism that a problem can be solved or improved, but many of the quotes from the quotes from this 1980 newsletter sound quite familiar in 2018, suggesting that not much has changed in terms of the roadblocks facing immigration reform and the lives of immigrants themselves. As Vernon Briggs (1982, 11-15) argued shortly after the SCIRP published its final report, immigration is both an economic and human rights issue. Favoring one side of the issue while ignoring the other often leads to stalemate.
Briggs, Vernon M., Jr. 1982. “Report of the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy: A Critique.” Texas Business Review 56, no. 1 (January 1982): 11-15. http://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/hr/36/.
Fragomen, Austin T., Jr. 1981.”The Final Report and Recommendations of the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy: A Summary.” The International Migration Review 15, no. 4 (Winter 1981): 758-68. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2545523.
Pear, Robert. 1984. “CONGRESS; ON IMMIGRATION, A POWER BEHIND THE SCENES.” The New York Times, April 7, 1984. https://www.nytimes.com/1984/04/07/us/congress-on-immigration-a-power-behind-the-scenes.html.
Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy. 1980. “Illegal Migration Examined at San Antonio Hearing.” Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy Newsletter No. 3 (January 1980): 1-4.
Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy. 1980. “Who’s Who in Immigration.” Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy Newsletter No. 3 (January 1980): 4-5.
U.S. Congress. Committees on the Judiciary. 1981. U.S. Immigration Policy and the National Interest. 97th Cong., 1st sess. Cong. Rept. August 1981. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=umn.31951p00822404d;view=1up;seq=3.
U.S. Congress. House. Committee on the Judiciary. 1980. Semiannual Report to Congress – Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy. 96th Cong., 2d sess. H. Rept. October 1980. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=pur1.32754075463319;view=1up;seq=1.