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Frank Sharry

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The Incredible Shrinking Rep. Lamar Smith

Posted: 02/ 9/2012 10:15 am

Does anyone (besides Mitt Romney) listen to the chair of the House Judiciary Committee anymore?

This week, Rep. Lamar Smith is looking especially desperate. He's taken to the pages of Roll Call and National Review Online to try to garner some attention on one of his favorite subjects: immigrant bashing. In Roll Call, Smith launched what amounts to another fact-free attack on President Obama. Smith claims the President is ignoring immigration laws. In reality, as immigrant communities and advocates are painfully aware, the Obama Administration has deported more undocumented immigrants than any other in history.

Smith is upset because last year Obama ordered the Department of Homeland Security to do what every local, state and federal law enforcement agency in the nation does: establish priorities and focus resources on dangerous criminals. Coming from Smith, the criticism is sheer hypocrisy. Back in 1999 Smith asked then-Attorney General Janet Reno to use the same kind of prosecutorial discretion he's now railing about. But Lamar isn't deterred by consistency or reality.

Nor is his political judgment so sharp. Last summer, Smith's leading witness at a hearing to denounce the prosecutorial discretion policy was Senator David Vitter. Yes, the same Senator who has his, um, own unique history with prosecutorial discretion. It didn't work out so well.

You know times are tough for Lamar when he has to resort to that right-wing bastion, National Review's "The Corner," to whine about -- can you guess? Yep, the liberal media. The first line of his screed is so outlandish, it's laughable:

"It's hard to imagine a worse example of media bias than the national coverage of illegal immigration."

Really? Just because reporters require you to have actual facts behind your arguments, and just because most have come to realize that the nativist case has been propped up for years by junk science peddled by faux think tanks such as the Center for Immigration Studies and Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) doesn't mean they are biased. It means that most have figured out that your rants aren't anchored in reality.

Of course, somebody has to take the blame for Chairman Smith's less than stellar legislative record this Congress. Besides the Vitter debacle on discretion, Smith's signature piece of anti-immigrant legislation is a bill called mandatory E-Verify. According to Smith and his running buddies Steve King (R-IA) and Elton Gallegly (R-CA), the bill would free up good-paying jobs for Americans. It tanked after small businesses complained the bill would create an unworkable and expensive bureaucracy; tea party types and libertarians complained the bill would grant the federal government the authority to approve or disapprove every new hire in America; agricultural growers predicted crops would rot on the vine; and the labor movement pointed out that it would actually cost Americans jobs. It would also force vulnerable workers further into the hands of unscrupulous employers.

So, why the sudden uptick on immigration by Smith? Perhaps he is looking to change the subject after he suffered a huge loss on another of his signature pieces of legislation, SOPA. That stinging defeat further damaged his already diminished status.

Bottom line: the notoriously thin-skinned Lamar Smith is flailing. But he shouldn't get so down. There is one person who is listening to Smith these days: Mitt Romney. Just like Lamar, Mitt wants to stop comprehensive immigration reform proposals at every turn, ramp up deportations even further, put in place a federally-run E-Verify system, fight off the DREAM Act (a popular bill that enables undocumented youth who came to the U.S. as children to attend college or serve in the military) and have states pass laws like Arizona's SB 1070 and Alabama's HB 56 that purge Latinos from their states. They call it "attrition through enforcement" or "self-deportation," presumably in hopes of making it sound humane.

But attempting to make life in the U.S. so unbearable that 11 million undocumented immigrants - a population the size of the state of Ohio - are harassed into leaving the country is not only inhumane, it's insane. First, it wouldn't work. But if it did somehow, it would undermine our recovering economy, our global reputation, and our moral compass.

Lamar and Mitt don't seem to care. Both are catering to the far-right nativist wing of the Republican Party, Lamar for ideological reasons and Mitt for political reasons. And that slice of the GOP electorate doesn't much like immigrants and doesn't much care for facts. Well, here's a fact that might give them all pause: the GOP presidential candidate needs 40% of the Latino vote to win in key swing states like Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Florida and even Arizona. But with Romney talking up self-deportation, promising to veto the popular DREAM Act and embracing anti-immigrant zealots like Pete Wilson, Lamar Smith, and Arizona and Alabama law author Kris Kobach, no wonder in head-to-head match ups with Obama he draws no more than the 25% of Latinos who reliably vote Republican.

Well, if he loses, Mitt can always take another page from his friend Lamar. He can blame the media.

Cross-posted at America's Voice and Daily Kos.

 

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