Commentary: GOP is not really serious on immigration enforcement
SAN DIEGO -- You would think that the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee would have better things to do than respond to every column that mentions him.
Apparently not. After I wrote recently that Republicans weren't really serious about enforcing immigration laws because they're too afraid to go after employers, many of whom write checks to Republican candidates at election time, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, fired off a response to each of the newspapers that run my column. Just as he did the last time I mentioned him. And the time before that.
Smith has the right to defend himself. But he doesn't have the right to create his own reality. And that's what he is trying to do.
In his most recent letter, Smith accused the Obama administration of "not enforcing the immigration laws on the books."
This will come as news to the more than 800,000 people who have been deported since Barack Obama took office, at the rate of about 1,000 per day. Just as it will to the hundreds of thousands of employers who have been pressured by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to fire illegal immigrant workers. With a record like this, it's absurd for anyone to accuse the administration of going soft on immigration enforcement.
Yet, on this issue, the Texas congressman has mastered absurdity.
As when Smith wrote to editors that illegal immigrants "take jobs from lawful workers."
Someone should check the expiration date on that carton of milk. How many Americans do you know who complain that it was their life's dream to pick strawberries, or tar roofs, or clean horse stalls, or do some other hard and dirty job but, darn it, an illegal immigrant got there first?
Or when Smith suggested that "the mass amnesty" of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act only "encouraged" more illegal immigration.
If he spoke to more immigrants, he'd know that there is only one thing that encourages them to leave their family and friends and trek north: jobs. And they come courtesy of the folks that Republicans consider untouchable: employers.
Or when Smith claimed that he supports "pro-enforcement policies" and that Republicans are "serious about securing the border and limiting illegal immigration."
If Republicans were serious, they would listen to the U.S. Border Patrol, the experts on border security. I've toured the border many times, and discussed enforcement strategies with agents and supervisors. What I heard was that many Border Patrol agents think the enforcement emphasis should be on employers and that fences or walls are feel-good gimmicks that don't do much good. One top official at the agency told me that he'd rather have high-quality surveillance equipment, tunnel-detection capability and improved roadways so agents could patrol the border more effectively. I don't see Republicans providing any of this.
Or when Smith -- in speaking to The Associated Press -- described the Dream Act, which would give undocumented immigrants who attend college or enlist in the military a shot at legal status, as "amnesty for up to 2 million people."
There's the A-word again. Amnesty is something for nothing, while the Dream Act is -- by definition -- something for something.
But the most absurd part of Smith's approach to the immigration debate is that he is putting all his chips on E-Verify, the government-run program that allows employers to electronically verify the Social Security numbers provided by workers. The system doesn't tell employers if someone is eligible to work, or if a worker is using someone else's Social Security number. It only tells them if the number is real.
Smith wants to change the program from voluntary to mandatory, and call it a day. Go ahead. A lot of good it will do. The fatal flaw with E-Verify is that it's not open to the one group that employs most illegal immigrants: American homeowners.
Earlier this year, Texas state Rep. Debbie Riddle -- a Republican -- admitted as much when she proposed a laughingstock of a bill that created penalties for employers of illegal immigrants but exempted anyone who hires laborers to do "work to be performed exclusively or primarily at a single-family residence." Riddle defended the exemption because homeowners don't have access to E-Verify. At least she was honest.
Which is more than I can say for how Lamar Smith approaches the immigration issue.