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Note to GOP: The Lamar Smith Political Strategy on Immigration Has Failed

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Cross-posted at Huffington Post and Daily Kos.

After the drubbing Republicans took from Latino voters in the 2012 elections, some of the party’s leaders began to talk openly about the stark choice they face: appeal to a diversifying America, or risk extinction as a national party.

This isn’t just a political choice, it’s a policy choice too. Already we’re seeing signs that the old guard is still in charge of the Republican immigration strategy in the House.

Let’s be clear: Mitt Romney’s self-deportation platform came straight from the playbook of Rep. Lamar Smith and his Kansas crony Kris Kobach. That’s the same Member of Congress who championed the notorious 1996 anti-immigrant laws and who called the DREAM Act an “a nightmare for the American people” in 2010. He was the guy in charge of immigration policy for the House before the election, and he’s still in charge today.

On Nov. 30, the House passed the Smith-crafted immigration bill that kills the diversity visa program and transfers those visas over to high-skilled immigrants. In a post titled “A Bad Start on Immigration Reform,” Lawrence Downes from The New York Times examines the “STEM” bill and exposes Smith’s cynical deception:

Representative Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, is offering a new version of an old immigration bill that’s due to be voted on this week. It’s being touted by supporters as a signal that the Republican Party understands the election message sent by voters — particular Latinos and Asians — in favor of immigration reform.Don’t be fooled. The resurrected STEM Jobs Act is a tweaked version of a bad bill that died earlier this year in the House, and it’s bad for the same reasons as before. The bill increases visas for immigrants skilled in STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math — by eliminating another visa category entirely: the “diversity” visas set aside for people from countries with relatively low immigration rates to the United States.

Here’s the math: Add 55,000 new visas for immigrants with advanced STEM degrees. Take away 55,000 diversity visas. A zero-sum game, in pro-immigrant disguise.

Why rob Peter to pay Paul? Because that is how Lamar Smith operates. He is exploiting the high-tech community’s legitimate need for more green cards in a way that pits constituencies against each other, gives the back of the hand to lower-skilled immigrants from diverse backgrounds and, over time, actually reduces overall legal immigration levels.

While Smith’s new bill includes a provision on family-based immigration in order to appear reasonable, the devil is in the details. Crafted without input from Democrats or immigration advocates, the provision allows some relatives of legal residents to enter the country sooner, but with fewer rights than current law. Still others who can currently immigrate legally are cut out completely. As a result, the bill stands little chance of getting approved.

We just had an election where the Lamar Smith approach to immigration policy was adjudicated and failed. The policies and rhetoric of Smith and his allies ignored our nation’s diversity, drove Latino voters into the arms of Democrats, cost the GOP a chance at the White House and the Senate and reduced GOP ranks in the House. And now, their first act on immigration is to move a Smith-crafted immigration bill that eliminates the diversity visa program? If this is the ‘new’ Republican strategy on immigration, it sure looks a lot like the old Republican strategy on immigration.

Lawrence Downes is right: If the Republicans are going to offer real immigration reform, they will have to do better than this.

And, we’ll know House Republicans are serious about real immigration reform when Lamar Smith isn’t writing their bills. For now, unfortunately, they still seem willing to follow Smith off the demographic cliff.