"A Toxic Anti-Hispanic Environment": Rep. Lamar Smith's Immigration Record

January 25, 2011 1:21 pm ET

As chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) has jurisdiction over immigration policy, and Smith has threatened aggressive hearings and investigations into the Obama administration's execution of immigration laws. In November, a prominent Hispanic Republican organization urged the Republican leadership not to give Smith this position, warning that he would create a "toxic anti-Hispanic environment" based on his past history of "extreme positions" and "inflammatory" rhetoric. Indeed, Smith has said that Presidents Obama and Bush were "close to a violation of the oath of office" due to their immigration policies; called for the abolition of birthright citizenship; used the derogatory term "anchor baby"; and employed a series of falsehoods to attack illegal immigrants.

Smith Says President Obama Is "Close To A Violation Of Their Oath Of Office" With Immigration Policy, Planning Hearings In Response

Smith Says Obama May Have Violated Oath Of Office By "Refus[ing]" To Secure Border, Enforce Immigration Law.  In an interview on The Lou Dobbs Show, Smith had the following exchange with host Lou Dobbs:

DOBBS: The fact that we've witnessed both the Bush administration and now the Obama administration...refuse to secure the borders, refuse to enforce immigration law - at what point does this rise to the level of a breach of oath to protect the Constitution of the United States?

SMITH: I think we're on the verge of being there right now. ...Whatever law they're not enforcing, I think it comes awfully close to a violation of their oath of office.  [The Lou Dobbs Show via ThinkProgress.org, 7/14/10]

Smith Supports "Oversight Into Fence Construction." In an interview on The Hugh Hewitt Show in December, Smith had the following exchange with host Hugh Hewitt:

HEWITT: Do you think you'll be having oversight into fence construction, so the American people get a good fix on this?

SMITH: I think we will at some point. The first few months here are going to focus on anything that has to do with job creation or oversight of the administration. And when we talk about oversight in the immigration area, we're talking about making sure they enforce the laws that say you can't hire someone in the country illegally. We're talking about making sure we can actually enforce the laws that are already on the books, and that would include the border fence as well.  [The Hugh Hewitt Show12/28/10]

Smith Wants To Investigate Administration's "Worksite Enforcement." Speaking on The Hugh Hewitt Show program, Smith said: "We're going to have a hearing about the Obama administration's almost abandoned worksite enforcement." [The Hugh Hewitt Show12/28/10]

FACT: Obama Administration Has Actually Ramped Up Border Enforcement Efforts

President Obama Has Increased Number Of Border Patrol Agents To Highest Number In Nation's History. In a July 22 hearing of the House Committee on Homeland Security, Michael Fisher, Chief of the U.S. Border Patrol, stated, "Currently we have over 20,000 Border Patrol agents nationwide, more than ever before in the history of the country." [Congressional Documents and Publications, 7/22/10, via Nexis]

Obama Administration Has Increased Deportations Above Bush Administration Levels. As reported by the Washington Post: "In a bid to remake the enforcement of federal immigration laws, the Obama administration is deporting record numbers of illegal immigrants and auditing hundreds of businesses that blithely hire undocumented workers. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency expects to deport about 400,000 people this fiscal year, nearly 10 percent above the Bush administration's 2008 total and 25 percent more than were deported in 2007." [Washington Post7/26/10]

Number Of Unauthorized Immigrants In The United States Has Declined. As reported by CBSNews.com: "The Department of Homeland Security reported that illegal immigrant population dropped to 10.8 million in 2009 compared to 11.6 million in 2008. It was the second consecutive annual decline and the largest in at least three decades... According to the report, the downturn in illegal immigration is due in part to the bad economy, in which job opportunities have dried up. Homeland Security department spokesman Matthew Chandler told the paper that the U.S. had also deployed 'unprecedented resources' to crack down on illegal immigration." [CBSNews.com, 2/11/10, emphasis added]

Hispanic GOP Group Warns Speaker Boehner Against Smith's "Extreme Positions," "Inflammatory" Immigration Rhetoric

Somos Republicans Urged GOP Leadership Not To Name Smith Judiciary Chair Because He Would Create "Toxic Anti-Hispanic Environment." Somos Republicans sent a letter in November to Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) urging him not to appoint Smith as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. The letter read in part:

Congressmen Smith and King have repeatedly engaged in rhetoric that is aimed negatively toward Hispanics. Steve King has used defamatory language that is extremely offensive to Hispanics, which is found in numerous congressional records. We believe Steve King's behavior is not appropriate for a high-level elected Republican who might be in charge of a committee that handles immigration rules. Steve King and Lamar Smith have adopted extreme positions on birthright citizenship, and promise legislation that would undermine the 14th amendment of the constitution, which both swore an oath to uphold.

While it is indeed the duty of the Judiciary and Immigration committees to oversee and enforce existing immigration laws, Representatives Smith and King have engaged in an ill-advised platform and rhetoric that has been perceived as insensitive with their inflammatory "immigration statements," and this has caused an exodus of Hispanic voters to the Democratic party.


With Representative Lamar Smith who represents Texas, our party cannot afford to risk losing Texas during the 2012 Presidential elections if he were put into a position that would create a toxic anti-Hispanic environment. As such, Representative Steve King would not give us a good start for 2012 since the Iowa caucus is another key Presidential state that the rest of the Union closely watches. That said, we pray that you will wait for the data that is created from the U.S. Census Bureau before the Republican Caucus decides to put these two individuals in charge of a situation that could cause more Hispanics to be stirred and motivated to vote for the Democrat Party. [Somos Republicans, 11/9/10, emphasis added]

  • Somos Republicans Is "The Largest Hispanic Republican Grassroots Organization In The Nation." According to its website: 

Somos Republicans is a national watchdog group and the largest Hispanic Republican grassroots organization in the nation because of our leadership that is pro immigration reform. The Mission of Somos Republicans is to promote political education and information needed to make more informed political decisions. To inspire the Hispanic people to make a difference in their lives and the lives of their neighbors through collaborative political education, volunteer commitment and responsible participation in society. Our vision is to increase the Latino Republican voting block by 100% within two years. To increase voter registration, precinct committeemen recruitment, campaign volunteering, fundraising and events to reflect quality of future Latino leadership. [SomosRepublicans.com, accessed 1/24/11]

Smith Is On A Crusade To End Birthright Citizenship

Smith Wants To Eliminate Birthright Citizenship. In a January 18 letter to Roll Call, Smith wrote: 

The granting of automatic citizenship to the children of foreigners comes from a misinterpretation of the 14th Amendment. The framers never sought to guarantee citizenship to children of illegal immigrants. During the debate in 1866, the Senator who authored the 14th Amendment said it would "not of course include persons born in the United States who are foreigners.

Some have estimated that in many large U.S. cities nearly two-thirds of the births are to illegal immigrant mothers. And health care and social services for illegal immigrants cost American taxpayers an estimated $1.1 billion per year.

Passing a law to eliminate birth citizenship would help deter illegal immigration and reduce the burden on the taxpayer. [Roll Call, 1/18/11]

Smith Sponsored Legislation To End Birthright Citizenship, Has Proposed Hearings To Do So. Smith is a co-sponsor of H.R. 1868, a bill that would allow birthright citizenship only if at least one parent is a U.S. citizen, lawful permanent resident alien or an alien performing active service in the U.S. Armed Forces.  In an interview on American Family Radio's Focal Point, Smith said:  "I envision having hearings on the subject trying to explore whether or not we can change the interpretation by statute or whether it would require a Constitutional amendment." [OpenCongress.org, accessed 1/18/11; American Family Radio, Focal Point via PoliticalCorrection.org, 11/10/10]

FACT: Birthright Citizenship Is Guaranteed By The Fourteenth Amendment

Section 1 Of The 14th Amendment Provides For Birthright Citizenship. From the 14th Amendment:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. [Cornell University Law School's Legal Information Institute, accessed 1/7/11, emphasis added]

CRS: Congress "Intended To Extend U.S. Citizenship" To Everyone Born In The U.S. Regardless Of "Alienage Of The Parents." The Congressional Research Service (CRS) stated in a September 2005 report:

Although the primary aim was to secure citizenship for African-Americans, the debates on the citizenship provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the Fourteenth Amendment indicate that they were intended to extend U.S. citizenship to all persons born in the United States and subject to its jurisdiction regardless of race, ethnicity or alienage of the parents. [Congressional Research Service, 9/13/05, emphasis added]

Former Thomas Clerk: "Subject To The Jurisdiction" Of The U.S. Means Those "Who Are Required To Obey U.S. Laws." James C. Ho, a former Texas solicitor general who previously clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas, worked in the Bush Administration, and served as chief counsel to Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), wrote in 2006:

To be "subject to the jurisdiction" of the U.S. is simply to be subject to the authority of the U.S. government. The phrase thus covers the vast majority of persons within our borders who are required to obey U.S. laws. And obedience, of course, does not turn on immigration status, national alle­giance, or past compliance. All must obey. [The Green Bag, Summer 2006]

Supreme Court Ruled That Citizenship Clause Applies To "All Children Here Born Of Resident Aliens." In the Supreme Court's opinion in United States v. Wong Kim Ark, Justice Gray wrote:

The fourteenth amendment affirms the ancient and fundamental rule of citizenship by birth within the terri­tory, in the allegiance and under the protection of the country, including all children here born of resident aliens, with the exceptions or qualifications (as old as the rule itself) of children of foreign sovereigns or their ministers, or born on foreign public ships, or of enemies within and during a hostile occupa­tion of part of our territory, and with the single additional exception of chil­dren of members of the Indian tribes owing direct allegiance to their several tribes. [U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark3/28/1898, emphasis added]

Supreme Court Rejected Claim That Unauthorized Immigrants Are Not "Within The Jurisdiction" Of A State. James C. Ho, a former Texas solicitor general who previously clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas, worked in the Bush Administration, and served as chief counsel to Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), wrote in 2006:

To be sure, the question of illegal aliens was not explicitly presented in Wong Kim Ark. But any doubt was put to rest in Plyler v. Doe (1982). [...]

[A]lthough the Court splintered over the specific question of public education, all nine justices agreed that the Equal Protection Clause protects legal and illegal aliens alike. And all nine reached that conclusion precisely because illegal aliens are "subject to the jurisdiction" of the U.S., no less than legal aliens and U.S. citizens. [The Green Bag, Summer 2006]

Smith Uses Derogatory Term "Anchor Babies"

Smith: Five Hundred Thousand Illegal Immigrants Come To The United States Every Year Simply To Give Birth To "Anchor Bab[ies]." In an interview on American Family Radio's Focal Point, Smith argued against the birthright citizenship provisions of the U.S. Constitution, saying:

There is about five hundred thousand illegal immigrants a year coming the country simply to give birth, and then once their child is a citizen, of course, uh, that individual can plug into all of our benefits and at some point, uh, later on the child can, of course, bring in other family members and so forth.  So it's sort of a anchor baby that leads to more chain immigration. [American Family Radio via PoliticalCorrection.org, 11/10/10,  emphasis added]

FACT: The "Anchor Baby" Is A "Derogatory, Even Racist" Term

Rocky Mountain News: Term "Considered By Many To Be Derogatory, Even Racist." According to the Rocky Mountain News: "Opponents of illegal immigration call them 'anchor babies' -- a term considered by many to be derogatory, even racist, because it implies that Hispanics are having children as a way to stay in the U.S." [Rocky Mountain News, 8/29/2006]

San Diego Union-Tribune: Term Is "Pejorative." A San Diego Union-Tribune article stated that an anti-immigration activist "dismissed teens marching in Los Angeles as 'probably part of the anchor baby-boom of the late 1980s and 1990s,' using a pejorative term for the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants." [San Diego Union-Tribune, 4/3/2006]

Reno Gazette-Journal: Term Is "Pejorative." The Reno Gazette-Journal reported that "[s]ome opponents of illegal immigration call such children 'anchor babies,' a pejorative term that implies the child will serve as an 'anchor' for his or her illegal immigrant parents, preventing the parents' deportations and acting as a pathway to citizenship for the whole family." [Reno Gazette-Journal via Nexis, 10/19/2008]

Chicago Tribune's Zorn: "Anchor Baby" Is "Loaded Language." After receiving complaints for his prior use of the term, Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn wrote:

I defended myself -- the term has appeared regularly in news stories since 1997, usually softened by quotations as in my column, and refers to the practice/hopes of illegal immigrants that if their children are born in the U.S. they will serve as an anchor that will help allow their parents to say here.  And Doug Rivlin, spokesman for the National Immigration Forum, a leading immigrants'-rights group, said he does not consider the term particularly offensive.

However, Rivlin said, it's a "politically charged term" originated and favored by those who are opposed to liberalized immigration laws. And a quick check through various sources confirms this.

"They use it to spark resentment against immigrants," Rivlin said of his ideological foes.  "They use it to make these children sound non-human."

To me, that's good enough reason to regret having used it and to decide not to use it in the future. Sound arguments don't need loaded language. [Zorn's Chicago Tribune "Change of Subject" blog, 8/18/06]

Smith Uses Pattern Of Falsehoods To Frame Immigration Debate Against Immigrants

Smith Claim: "In The Last Five Years, 28,000 People Have Been Killed Along The U.S.-Mexico Border." In a December press release, Smith wrote: "In the last five years, 28,000 people have been killed along the U.S.-Mexico border, including 1,000 law enforcement officers." [Smith press release via Austin America-Statesman, 12/15/10]

PolitiFact Texas: Smith Claim "Fails A Truth Test," Is "False." From a fact-check of Smith's claim by PolitiFact Texas, a joint project of Politifact.com and the Austin American-Statesman:

Where did this oft-repeated stat originate? The Mexican government, according to an Aug. 3 Associated Press news story that Smith's office sent us. "Mexico says more than 28,000 people have been killed in drug violence since President Felipe Calderón launched a crackdown against cartels in 2006," the AP reported.


David Shirk, the institute's director, told us the Mexican government collects its data on drug-related violence from local prosecutors, who are asked to report any homicides associated with organized crime. Shirk said that the institute and others have requested access to the data but that Mexican officials have declined to release it. Regardless, Shirk said he knows Smith's statement that 28,000 people have been killed along the border is incorrect because that "is the total number of homicides associated with organized crime in all of Mexico, according to figures released by the Mexican government."

Later, Ricardo Alday, a spokesman for the Mexican Embassy in Washington, confirmed Shirk's assessment, telling us that all 28,000 deaths had not occurred in the border region. Alday did not offer further details.


[Rep. Smith's] statement that 28,000 people have been killed along the U.S.-Mexico border in the past five years fails a truth test in a couple of ways.

First, he misleads by failing to specify that all the deaths he is talking about were on the Mexican side of the border. Second, he claims the drug-related homicides took place in the border region, when the Mexican government says they occurred in other parts of the country as well. We rate Smith's statement as False. [PolitiFact.com, 12/31/10]

Smith Claim: "We Could Cut Unemployment In Half Simply By Reclaiming The Jobs Taken By Illegal Workers." The New York Times reported:

We could cut unemployment in half simply by reclaiming the jobs taken by illegal workers," said Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, co-chairman of the Reclaim American Jobs Caucus. "President Obama is on the wrong side of the American people on immigration. The president should support policies that help citizens and legal immigrants find the jobs they need and deserve, rather than fail to enforce immigration laws. [New York Times, 7/1/10]

PolitiFact Texas: Smith's Statement Is "False."  PolitiFact Texas responded to Smith's claim:

Smith offered no studies backing up his statement, while we found two studies that found that employment would actually decline if undocumented workers were suddenly deported. Meantime, for various reasons experts across the spectrum said it's not believable that unemployment would halve should illegal workers vanish. Smith's simple logic is too simplistic. We rate his statement as False. [PolitiFact.com, 7/1/10]

Smith Claim: 500,000 Illegal Immigrants Enter U.S. A Year Simply To Give Birth. In an interview on American Family Radio's Focal Point, Smith argued against the birthright citizenship provisions of the U.S. Constitution, saying:

There is about five hundred thousand, uh, illegal immigrants a year coming the country simply to give birth, and then once their child is a citizen, of course, uh, that individual can plug into all of our benefits and at some point, uh, later on the child can, of course, bring in other family members and so forth.  So it's sort of a anchor baby that leads to more chain immigration. [American Family Radio via PoliticalCorrection.org, 11/10/10, emphasis added]

Pew Hispanic Center: Annual Inflow Of Illegal Immigrants Dropped To 300,000 From 2007-2009. According to the Pew Hispanic Center:

During the first half of the decade, an average of about 850,000 new unauthorized immigrants entered each year, increasing the unauthorized population from 8.4 million in 2000 to 11.1 million in 2005. Since then, the average annual inflow dropped to about 550,000 per year from March 2005 to March 2007 and declined further to an average of 300,000 per year for March 2007 to March 2009. As a result, the unauthorized population in 2009 returned to the level it had been in 2005. [PewHispanic.org, 9/1/10, emphasis added]

Smith Claim: Allowing Birthright Citizenship Leads to "Chain Immigration." In his interview on American Family Radio's Focal Point, Smith suggested that illegal immigrants can easily obtain citizenship after having U.S. citizen children, saying:

There is about five hundred thousand illegal immigrants a year coming the country simply to give birth, and then once their child is a citizen, of course, that individual can plug into all of our benefits and at some point later on the child can, of course, bring in other family members and so forth.  So it's sort of a anchor baby that leads to more chain immigration. [American Family Radio via PoliticalCorrection.org, 11/10/10, emphasis added]

FACT: "Chain Immigration" Claims Ignore Highly Restrictive Immigration Process

U.S.-Born Children Of Undocumented Parents Must Be 21 Before Petitioning To Bring Their Parents To U.S. Legally. Under federal law, a U.S. citizen must be 21 years old to petition to bring alien parents or other relatives into the United States as legal immigrants. [U.S. Code § 1151]

Restriction Intended To Prevent "Wholesale Circumvention Of The Immigration Laws." The Congressional Research Service has reported of the requirement: "Federal courts have found that this requirement is meant 'to prevent wholesale circumvention of the immigration laws by persons who enter the country illegally and promptly have children to avoid deportation,' and does not violate equal protection by distinguishing between U.S.-citizen children who are minors and those who have attained majority." [Congressional Research Service report, 9/13/2005]

Process To Petition For Parents' Citizenship Is Arduous. According to a research document on "The Anchor Baby Myth" produced by the Scott Immigration Law Firm:

A child born in the US is a US citizen, but the immigration benefits to the parents are extremely limited. After the alien mother (or father) has been present for no less than ten years, the alien may apply for Cancellation of Removal (aka "Cancellation") if she can prove ten years of good moral character and that deporting her would be an exceptional and extremely unusual hardship to her US citizen child. This is an unusual form of relief as there is an annual cap of 4000 on the number of illegal immigrants who can be granted this type of Cancellation, and for the past several years the government has not reached that cap. This means that under 4000 people are granted this type of Cancellation annually.

Once the child turns 21, he can file a visa petition for the parent. The Restrictionists present this information as though it then becomes a simple matter of filing paperwork. What they don't tell you is that if the parent entered without inspection, the parent is not able to apply for a green card from within the US. She would have to apply for a visa at the consulate. But because she was previously unlawfully present for more than a year, she will be banned from entering the US for ten years. As the child is not a qualifying relative for a waiver of this ground of inadmissibility, she would not be able to return to the US legally for ten years despite have a US citizen child over age 21.

Even if the parent had entered the US lawfully and/or were not subject to the ten-year ban, the adult child would still need to prove that he has enough income to support the parent(s) and himself at no less than 125% of the poverty level. Under the 2009 poverty guidelines, a person wanting to sponsor both parents would have to show he makes at least $22,887, an income level many 21-year-olds have trouble achieving. The child may seek a co-sponsor to help meet the income requirement, but even so, it's clear that legalizing one's parents takes more than the mere filing of papers. Every year many US citizens petition for their parents, but there is no indication that US-born children of illegal immigrants are filing a majority of parental petitions. [Scott Immigration Law Firm document, accessed 1/25/11]

Smith's Problem Is With All Immigrants, Regardless Of Legal Status

Smith Criticizes Jobs Going To "Foreign Workers" Instead Of "American Workers." During an interview with Fox News anchor Bill Hemmer, Smith said: "You actually have a total of 26 million Americans now who are either underemployed or unemployed, and it just doesn't seem right. Those jobs should be going to American workers, and not necessarily to foreign workers, many of whom are illegally employed." [Fox News via PoliticalCorrection.org, 1/21/11, emphasis added]