EDITOR’S NOTE: U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith represents Texas CD-21, which includes western San Marcos, western Kyle and Buda. He will meet with Hays County constituents 8 a.m. Monday, Feb. 18 at the Hays County Courthouse. Motivated in part by this opinion piece published in Politico on Wednesday, Hays County Democrats are planning a “welcome” Smith during his first public appearance in Hays County since winning re-election in November.
COMMENTARY by U.S. REP. LAMAR SMITH
Before deciding what to do about immigration, Republicans should first decide what not to do. They should not buy in to the Obama/liberal Democrats’ plan to legalize every person who is in the country illegally.
Republicans do need to make progress with Hispanic voters. But immigration is exactly the wrong subject to use to attract Hispanic support.
For five reasons, Republicans should avoid the immigration trap.
First, when Hispanics themselves are asked what issues they care most about, they usually list immigration fifth. The economy and jobs both rate much higher.
Some argue that how Republicans talk about immigration scares away Hispanic voters. Regrettably, they are right. But the answer is to discuss immigration in a different way, not give amnesty to millions of people in the country illegally.
Republicans should emphasize that America already admits 1 million legal immigrants every year, more than all other countries combined. That generosity should continue. Immigrants strengthen our nation, contribute to our economy and set a daily example for how to achieve the American dream.
Second, Republicans should focus on what Hispanics care about: better financial security — more take-home pay, more job opportunities and a stronger economy. That also happens to be a winning formula for all Americans.
Under the Obama administration, Hispanics’ family income has dropped and unemployment is higher than the national average and economic growth has slowed to a crawl. Republicans should address these issues by favoring low taxes, reducing the government’s debt and creating more private-sector jobs.
Third, legalizing everyone who is in the country illegally (amnesty) sends the wrong message to legal immigrants and to would-be immigrants waiting in line. They played by the rules, waited their turn (sometimes years) and came in the right way.
To reward those who broke the law says to the law-abiding, “You were dumb to wait. Why didn’t you enter illegally?” That’s why a legalization program would increase illegal immigration.
Fourth, some say a legalization program would enable Republicans to “put the immigration issue behind us.” But Republicans are never going to see it in the rear-view mirror. Does anyone really think Republicans are going to outbid Democrats on giving benefits to illegal immigrants?
And fifth, you have to be a little suspicious when liberal Democrats tell Republicans they have to support amnesty to win elections. Do Republicans really think they have the best interests of the GOP at heart?
Immigration is the field Democrats want to lure Republicans to play on. Why? Because Democrats know they’ll win.
Democrats have done the math and realize that legalization inevitably would give them millions of votes, meaning more victories in congressional and presidential elections.
Republicans should put Americans’ interests first. Where do we need immigrants? Which immigrants would contribute most to our economy? Immigrants have made our country great. They work hard, start businesses and generate economic growth. So, besides border security, what kind of immigration policies should Republicans support?
Especially in the agriculture industry, more workers are needed. Immigrants can be admitted to go to specific areas for a certain period of time and then return home.
Foreign students in the U.S. who receive advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and math should be allowed to stay and contribute their talents.
Reduce the number of extended family members (chain migration) and admit more immigrants on the basis of skills that America needs.
Unlike adults who may have knowingly violated our immigration laws, children brought into our country at a young age should not be blamed for their parents’ actions. A new visa, not conducive to fraud or chain migration, should be created for them.
If a legal immigrant is waiting for a husband or wife with minor children outside the country to receive a visa, the spouse should be allowed to wait for the visa in the U.S., rather than remain separated from the family.
These proposed changes are justified and fair. Republicans could endorse them because they would serve America’s best interests. But Republicans should not fall into the trap of legalizing everyone in the country illegally.
U.S. REP. LAMAR SMITH represents Texas CD-21, which includes western San Marcos, western Kyle and Buda. A former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Smith serves on the panel’s immigration subcommittee. This opinion piece was originally published in Politico on Feb. 13.
COVER: TEXAS TRIBUNE PHOTO ILLUSTRATION by RYAN H. REILLY AND TODD WISEMAN