In his recent Washington Times Op-Ed, Mythical racism in immigration enforcement, Rep. Lamar Smith, the Republican Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, essentially outlines what we can expect on immigration policy from the House Republican leadership over the next couple of years. Unfortunately, it appears the Republicans will not seize an historic opportunity to roll up their sleeves, get to work, and send President Obama a new, workable, globally competitive, immigration law; something the country desperately needs. Instead, what Chairman Smith makes clear is that the Republicans will engage in the same old “just say no to positive immigration reform” agenda but formatted in a newer, more nuanced, message.
First, the Republicans will repackage the anti-immigrant restrictionist plan with catchy words and phrases designed to appeal to the hearts and minds of the American people. There is a whole science devoted to the use of precise language to sell a political product. And Lamar Smith has clearly been studying it because his Op-Ed strategically uses new words and phrases to market the anti-immigrant agenda.
For example, Chairman Smith unveils the phrase “pro-enforcement” using it no less than eight times. He never defines it, but cleverly employs it to repackage such hate filled anti-immigrant legislation as Arizona’s SB1070 as a necessary policy that any loyal American would be quick to embrace. On the other hand, Smith labels those who would resist mean spirited anti-immigrant policy as “critics of pro-enforcement.” Such critics would appear to include anyone who advocates for due process or meaningful immigration reform. They are, following Smith’s logic, anti-enforcement and, therefore, anti-rule of law. This would appear to include such diverse groups as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Federation of Labor, the Catholic Church, and the American Jewish Committee.
Second, if the facts don’t fit their message, the Republican leadership will just ignore them. Chairman Smith suggests that the problem is not the dysfunctional immigration law but the failure to implement it. Yet, he ignores the Obama Administration’s record of rigorous immigration enforcement—arguably among the toughest in history. Deportations are at an all time high, federal criminal prosecutions of illegal reentry and other immigration related crime constitute a huge percentage of all federal criminal prosecutions, and the Department of Homeland Security recently commenced audits of 1,000 employers nationwide to combat the illegal employment of aliens. Of course Chairman Smith makes no mention of this.
He also ignores the fact that that enforcement of the immigration law will not curb illegal immigration without a safe, orderly, and fair immigration policy which includes a well designated temporary worker program. We need an immigration system designed to meet the needs of our global economy; focused on education, innovation, and the rebuilding of America’s infrastructure; a system that will attract the best and the brightest to our shores so they can perform cutting edge research, start new businesses, and continue to build our nation.
Of course the Republicans will not throw the baby out with the bathwater. They will continue to liberally use the dreaded A (Amnesty)-word coupled with questionable facts and half-truths. In his 750 word Op-Ed Chairman Smith uses the A-word no less than five times. The A-word is the bunker buster of the immigration debate—a reliable old tool in the anti-immigrant arsenal. Whenever it’s used people cringe because it conjures up images of law breakers being let off the hook only to attract more law breakers to again be let off the hook. Americans value the rule of law. In fact the success of the American experiment depends on it.
So, the A-word is an old favorite of the restrictionist crowd. Using it is easier than talking about the facts, one of which is that no responsible advocate for immigration reform is proposing any kind of amnesty. To the contrary, the credible immigration reform proposals merely offer unauthorized immigrants a chance to earn their way to immigration compliance. What Chairman Smith fails to mention is that all earned compliance proposals in fact punish illegal immigrants with stiff fines and require them to have a clean background, pay taxes and learn English.
But facts can be so bothersome when the A-word will do.
Unfortunately, while Lamar Smith’s Op-Ed piece is full of bluster and spin, it lacks solutions. Neither the cynical use of words and phrases nor the selective use of facts is new. It is a staple of American politics. But the country deserves better. The Republican leadership in Congress owes it to the American people to work with the Senate and White House in a bipartisan effort to enact an historic overhaul of our broken immigration system.
After all, the American people sent them to Washington to lead and solve, not to polish and message.