Rep. Lamar Smith Defends GOP Immigration Record With Tired Rhetoric, Failed Policies

May 18, 2011 11:16 am ET — Matt Gertz

Rep. Lamar Smith

In a column in the Modesto Bee earlier this week, Ruben Navarrette Jr. challenged House Judiciary Chair Lamar Smith's (R-TX) deportation-focused approach to immigration reform:

The immigration restrictionists like to say that [Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986] failed because it didn't stop illegal immigration. What the critics don't say is that there is only one reason illegal immigrants kept coming to the United States: U.S. employers kept hiring them.

And when Congress had the chance to do something about that, the GOP refused. In 1996, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, proposed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, a Draconian piece of legislation that made it easier to deport illegal immigrants and harder to re-enter the country legally. It steered clear of cracking down on employers. Not surprisingly, even after the law was adopted, illegal immigrants kept coming because — wait for it — employers kept hiring them.

In today's Bee, Smith responds with the tired claims that he says demonstrate that "Republicans are serious about security the border and limiting illegal immigration."

Smith's argument is based on the fallacy that improved border security and enforcement will solve the problem of illegal immigration. But as Media Matters has documented, the Obama administration has already devoted unprecedented resources to border security, and immigration policy experts agree that this isn't enough, and that comprehensive reform is needed to truly reduce illegal immigration in the long-term.

Smith praises the E-Verify program, which allows employers to verify the legal status of new hires, and says that he will soon introduce legislation to make the program mandatory. But the Congressional Budget Office has previously stated that such a bill would cost the government $17.3 billion over ten years, largely because its implementation "would result in an increase in the number of undocumented workers being paid outside the tax system." In other words, illegal immigrants wouldn't stop working, they would just move to the illegal labor market.

Additionally, the program could cost small businesses $2.6 billion per year to use, largely in costs of training or hiring outside contractors to perform the searches. 

Smith also cites decreases in worksite enforcement raids as evidence of the Obama administration's supposed failures to stop undocumented immigration, writing that "Enforcing our immigration laws, especially worksite enforcement activities, shows that we take our immigration laws seriously."

Indeed, the administration has shifted its resources away from workplace raids in favor of increased scrutiny of employers of undocumented workers. But the raw numbers mainly demonstrate that workplace operations have never played a major role in federal efforts. In fiscal year 2008, the number of arrests in workplace enforcement operations reached their high point, at a mere 6,287

By contrast, the Obama administration removed nearly 400,000 undocumented immigrants in fiscal 2010, 25 percent more than the removals in fiscal 2007. And Smith thinks it's Obama who isn't serious about immigration?