Sometimes it's hard to tell whether Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) is chair of the House Judiciary Committee or the head of the "Just Say No To Any Immigration Solution" crowd.
As if on cue, Smith criticized a processing tweak -- proposed Friday by the Obama administration -- which will allow undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S. while the Department of Homeland Security determines whether or not denial of their green card would cause extreme hardship to their U.S. citizen spouse or parent. Smith's predictable knee-jerk reaction included the same old tired claim that the administration was trying to pull an "end around" the immigration law. I expect Smith's restrictionist friends will soon chime in with a hearty chorus of "backdoor amnesty".
Smith should have read the proposed rule change before he opened his mouth. Under the law -- which, contrary to what Smith claims, would not change one bit under the administration's proposal -- undocumented husbands, wives, sons and daughters of U.S. citizens cannot apply for a green card in the U.S. Yet, when they leave the U.S. to get right with the immigration law, they are barred by statute from returning for up to 10 years -- kind of a legal "Catch-22".
Immigrants who face the unlawful presence bar can ask the government for a waiver if they can prove their U.S. citizen spouse or parent will suffer extreme hardship -- a very difficult standard to meet. Unfortunately, due to backlogs, the overseas waiver process takes months, sometimes even years. In the meantime immigrants remain stuck abroad, separated from their loved ones in the U.S. Over the years immigrants have been seriously injured, even murdered, while waiting in dangerous cities like Ciudad Juarez.
Lost in Smith's reflexive denunciation is that the rule change would do little more than allow an immigrant to file a waiver application in the U.S. before going abroad to apply for an immigrant visa. The rigors of the law have not been altered one bit: the applicant still must meet the exacting legal standard of proving his spouse or parent would suffer extreme hardship and, if the waiver is granted, the applicant still must leave the U.S. to apply for the immigrant visa abroad. Smith also fails to note that the administrative change will reduce backlogs at U.S. embassies, leading to more efficient government and smarter enforcement.
If Lamar Smith were truly interested in making the immigration system work for American families he would wholeheartedly support the administration's stateside waiver proposal. The proposal is far from perfect and needs several key adjustments, but it is a welcome step in the right direction. If implemented, it will keep American families safe and together, make visa processing more efficient and secure, and guard the rule of law. The nation deserves Congressional leaders who are committed to fixing America's broken immigration system, not politicians who offer little more than hot air.