Although there may still be utter madness on the state level with instances such as Jan Brewer fighting to keep licenses from the children of undocumented immigrants, at the national level, Republicans are doing whatever they can to smooth things over with Latinos. To this end, the GOP is offering up the STEM Act, alongside other measures such as the Achieve Act, to soften their image amongst Latinos. While the STEM Act is yet another measure that is a fraction of what the DREAM Act offers to the undocumented immigrant community, much of the rhetoric on this bill is very applicable to the DREAM Act, yet comes from it's strongest opponents.
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Medicine, which are the advanced degrees for which the STEM Act would offer permanent-residence visas. Democrats have been opposed, claiming that the bill wouldn't go far enough, and would take what is known as the "visa lottery," a diversity visa program, out. The real eyebrow raiser of this bill, however, isn't that it does away with other visa programs, or even that it's yet another watered-down DREAM Act in the wake of the Achieve Act, ARMS Act and STARS Act; no, it's the fact that Lamar Smith was the sponsor.
Rep. Smith has been called "one of the three most anti-immigrant voices in the GOP" by America's Voice; voted yes on a border fence; voted to support the Minuteman Project; voted yes on reporting undocumented immigrants who receive hospital treatment to immigration; co-sponsored a bill to offer government services in English only; signed off on ending birthright citizenship to single out "anchor babies" for deportation; rated A+ by anti-immigrant group Americans for Legal Immigration (ALIPAC); rated 92 percent by the U.S. Border Control (USBC) for a sealed-border stance; received a 100 percent rating from the anti-immigrant organization Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR): Lamar Smith seems an unlikely sponsor of anything pro-immigrant.
In addition, on the DREAM Act, the bill that all bills for undocumented immigrants is inevitably compared to, Rep. Smith is in the lead of the opposition: he wrote an op-ed for Fox News titled "The Truth About The DREAM Act." In his article, Smith briefly glosses over important things like how the legislation affects sympathetic children dismissively, and then goes into a monologue about how terrible the DREAM Act is. Lamar Smith goes so far as to say that those who qualify are "unfairly taking jobs away from unemployed Americans." In reality, undocumented immigrants are at a heavy disadvantage competing for jobs, even against far less qualified citizens.
Rep. Smith has come forth with strong rhetoric in favor of the Republican's STEM Act, saying:
We could boost economic growth and spur job creation by allowing American employers to more easily hire some of the most qualified foreign graduates of U.S. universities. These students have the ability to start a company that creates jobs or come up with an invention that could jump-start a whole new industry.
When this rhetoric is applied to the DREAM Act, we can even more confidently say this is true; study after study, including extensive research recently by Bloomberg's think tank, has shown that the DREAM Act would boost the economy. The STEM Act is comparatively new and less researched.
With the overlap between those eligible for the DREAM Act and the STEM Act, Smith labeled the same people who are "unfairly taking jobs away from unemployed Americans" as those with the potential to jump-start whole industries that could "boost economic growth." Considering how his newfound sensitivity to the plight of the most employable undocumented immigrants closely follows a largely pro-immigrant electoral beating and completely cuts against his previous, strongly-held beliefs, it's hard to take Smith seriously; in the end, he seems like he's merely offering less than what the Democrats would get if they just hold out and drag the immigration fight back into the media spotlight after the fiscal cliff no longer dominates headlines.
Lamar Smith is not the only Republican to publicly espouse the values of Republican-led immigration reform, however, voted against the incredibly-sympathetic DREAM Act. If Republicans ever want to win the White House again, whatever their stance, they have to at least be able to move far enough left on immigration to accept the DREAM Act; if not, they'll still be that same Mad Men party that knows how to tip a stripper in Tampa while wearing a pinstripe suit, but won't be able to win elections outside a dwindling number of places with a majority of angry, old, white male voters.