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GOP Won’t Solve its Latino Voter Problem With Lamar Smith Calling the Shots on Immigration

by Frank Sharry on 03/22/2012 at 8:49am

Lamar Smith Cross-Posted at the Huffington Post:

Congressional Quarterly reports that Rep. David Rivera (R-FL) is planning to introduce a dramatically stripped down version of the DREAM Act — and it doesn’t pass the legislative or political laugh test.  

This is clearly an attempt by Rivera to provide political cover for Republicans, especially Mitt Romney. Rivera seems to recognize the dangers of the GOP’s harsh anti-immigrant positioning, even if the GOP presidential candidates don’t.

There’s just one, rather large and overwhelming problem: Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX).  Any attempt to amend or soften the Republican Party’s immigration positioning runs smack dab into Smith, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee — and the leading anti-immigrant lawmaker in Congress.

Lamar Smith’s influence is shrinking everywhere but within the GOP, where he has somehow managed to stay relevant. In fact, Rep. Smith’s hard-line views are driving the Republican strategy on immigration both in Congress and on the campaign trail.   The representative’s “self deportation” approach (which is actually code for “mass expulsion,” a radical strategy aimed at driving 11 million undocumented immigrants out of the country where most have worked and lived for over a decade) is not only the policy espoused by controversial Romney advisor Kris Kobach but by Romney himself.  During the 2010 legislative battle over the DREAM Act — a debate to which Spanish language media paid close attention — Rep. Smith infamously called the DREAM Act “an American nightmare.”  Not surprisingly, Mitt Romney announced recently that he would veto the DREAM Act if Congress were to approve it.

What’s Rivera up to?  Like political analysts and observers across the political spectrum, he recognizes that the Republican Party is in big trouble with Latinos.  With the DREAM Act enjoying 90% support among Latino voters, it’s little wonder that Rivera is trying to throw a lifeline to Republicans.  He wants the GOP to pretend to be on the side of high-achieving young people who are Americans in all but paperwork.  Unfortunately for him and the GOP, there are two big problems with this strategy:

  1. Compared to the DREAM Act, the Republican approach would help precious few people;

  2. As long as Rep. Smith and his anti-immigrant allies are calling the legislative shots, any reasonable measure that offers a path to citizenship to young immigrants is going nowhere.  In the end, Rep. Rivera’s effort has to be seen for what it is: a transparent attempt to provide political cover to a Party scrambling to re-brand itself to Latino voters.

Republicans desperate about their poor standing with Latino voters would be wise to stand up to Lamar Smith and his friends rather than coddle him.  After all, they are driving the GOP over the electoral cliff.  And while you are at it, Republicans who get it, forget Rivera-style message bills.  It’s time to once again embrace the traditionally bi-partisan legislation DREAM Act as the way forward.

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