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Washington – When the 112th Congress convenes tomorrow, the Lamar Smith era will begin. One of the most stridently anti-immigrant Members of Congress today, Smith will become the new chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and has already pledged to make immigration his top priority. He will be joined by his notorious side-kick, incoming Immigration Subcommittee Chair Steve King.
This dynamic “deportation duo,” whose preferred approach to immigration reform is to force the mass deportation of 11 million undocumented workers and their family members, will become a huge liability for the Republican Party in 2012. Anti-immigrant politicking already cost Republicans the Senate in 2010, when Latino voters rose up and stopped the Republican wave at the Rockies. Following Republican defeat of the DREAM Act in 2010, the GOP can hardly afford two years of anti-immigrant rhetoric and legislating from Smith and King.
According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “Advocates for sensible public policy, those seeking a lasting solution to the broken immigration system, and Republican Party political strategists should be very worried about the dawn of the Lamar Smith era. In contrast to President Ronald Reagan’s approach to immigration – infused with his ‘Morning in America’ optimism – the Smith and King approach is dark, pessimistic, short-sighted, and against our best American traditions.”
POLITICO reports that Smith may be trying to recast his approach as a kinder, gentler way to achieve mass deportation. But the velvet glove only serves to hide the iron fist. Smith seems to be gearing up to mandate the use of the faulty E-Verify system by every employer in the United States for every person employed in the United States. The goal? To try to force the self-deportation of 11 million workers and their family members. But the only real solution to the broken immigration system is comprehensive immigration reform that simultaneously makes all workers legal and all hiring legal in a way that ensures all employers and workers are paying their full and fair share of taxes.
Despite his attempts to portray himself as sensible, Smith’s strategy of forcing the deportation of millions of immigrants will continue to paint the GOP as both anti-immigrant and anti-Latino. As Conservative columnist Ruben Navarrette wrote: “Rep. Lamar Smith’s pet cause is immigration enforcement. Now, as the chairman-elect of the House Judiciary Committee attempts to convince fellow Republicans to join his posse, he has also taken an interest in Latino voting patterns. Too bad he has such a limited understanding of both…. Now Lamar Smith is on another sales trip, peddling the snake oil that Republicans can do their worst and not pay a price with Latino voters. Buyer beware. Tidal wave approaching.”
The heightened profile for Smith and Steve King could not come at a worse time for Republican outreach to Latino voters, after the blistering and divisive DREAM Act debate. A recent analysis by Latino Decisions highlights the fact that the DREAM Act is overwhelmingly popular with Latino voters. As Latino Decisions writes, “75% of Latino voters said it was very or extremely important for the DREAM Act to be passed by Congress, with another 13% saying somewhat important — that’s 88% all told who thought it was important for Congress to pass DREAM.” The analysis goes on to point out that senators who voted against DREAM and represent states with large numbers of Latino voters could face political trouble their next election, specifically highlighting the anti-DREAM votes of senators up for re-election in 2012, such as Arizona Senator Jon Kyl (R) and Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R).
Writes Latino Decisions, “As the 2012 election cycle takes shape, and the issues are defined and debated, it is unlikely that votes on the DREAM Act will be forgotten by Latino voters, 88% of whom supported the bill’s passage. If any lesson was learned in 2010, it should be to not underestimate the Latino electorate, which is growing in size, and influence in each successive election.” Spanish media covered the run-up and aftermath of the debate on a daily basis, and Telemundo and Univision even broadcast the Senate vote live.
Said Sharry, “The voices in the Republican Party who grasp the long-term significance of driving Hispanic voters into the arms of the Democrats should recognize that Lamar Smith’s mass deportation approach to immigration is the fastest way to seal their Party’s fate. As the new Congress dawns and as Chairmen Smith and King assume their duties, will any prominent leader in the Republican Party stand up to these radicals and stand for the future of their party?”
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