After four years of Democratic control, Republicans are now in charge of the U.S. House of Representatives. House Republican leaders have placed a familiar cast of characters in position to draft the chamber’s strategy on immigration:
* Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) is now the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and he has declared that immigration will be a top priority for his Committee. Smith was the chair of the House Immigration Subcommittee in 1996 when Congress passed a series of laws that ramped up enforcement against both legal and undocumented immigrants—bills that collectively made the broken immigration system worse, not better. Despite following Smith’s enforcement-only strategy for nearly fifteen years, the number of undocumented immigrants in our country has continued to rise.
* Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-CA) is now the chair of the House Immigration Subcommittee, and he is preparing to launch a series of hearings on immigration enforcement at the beginning of the 112th Congress. Gallegly also has a long track record on immigration, and has focused much of his efforts on attacking children. For example, since the early 1990s Gallegly has sponsored legislation to deny U.S. citizenship to babies born in America based on who their parents are. In 1996, he famously pushed an amendment to deny undocumented children access to an education—the federal version of California’s Proposition 187.
* Rep. Steve King (R-IA) is now vice-chair of the House Immigration Subcommittee. He may have been passed over for the top spot because of his incendiary comments, such as his comparison of immigrants to livestock and suggestion that we install an electric fence at the border to keep them out. Still, Smith and Gallegly share King’s policy positions on immigration, and he will continue to play a key role in crafting their approach.
In one of his first acts of the year, Rep. Smith (R-TX) changed the name of the Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law to the Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement. The name change reflects the new priorities of the Committee—an enforcement-only approach with the goal of driving 11 million undocumented immigrants and their family members out of the country.
However, since a mass deportation policy is not popular with Latino voters, House Republicans are attempting to recast their approach in more palatable terms. Rather than change course and embrace comprehensive immigration reform—the only proposal that would truly level the playing field, turn workers into taxpayers, and restore the rule of law—they are simply recasting their anti-immigration agenda using pro-worker terms.
In this report, America’s Voice Education Fund (AVEF) peels back the pro-worker mask that Smith, Gallegly, and King are attempting to put on, and shows that they are motivated not by concern for workers but their desire to remove 11 million immigrants and their family members from the country. AVEF reviews their voting records on worker issues, and find that they have a long history of opposing policies to help American workers succeed, such as an increase to the minimum wage.
In reality, Smith, Gallegly, and King are simply carrying out the policies embraced by a shadowy coalition of anti-immigrant organizations—many of whom have been tied to white supremacists or labeled hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center. This report exposes that connection and makes it clear that groups like the “Coalition for the Future American Worker” are simply using American unemployment as the latest excuse to rail against immigrants. In the past, these same organizations have blamed immigrants for such diverse issues such as global warming, the housing crisis, a broken health care system, traffic congestion, and more.
Finally, AVEF examines why a mass deportation agenda is dangerous politics for the Republican Party. After pushing anti-immigrant policies for years and campaigning on the issue in the 2006, 2008, and 2010 elections, Republicans have boxed themselves in with Latino voters. Following the strategy of Smith, Gallegly, and King, they are the party of Proposition 187, the Sensenbrenner bill, the Arizona “papers, please” immigration law and copycat proposals in other states, the defeat of comprehensive immigration reform, and the defeat of the DREAM Act. Latino voters feel disrespected and attacked by the GOP, and are increasingly voting Democratic because of it.
As the 2010 Census results drive home, unless the GOP finds a way to reverse course on immigration and win at least 40% of the Latino vote, it will never see the inside of the White House again, and will become a minority party. With Smith, Gallegly, and King at the helm in the House, the GOP is poised to become a sinking ship with Latino voters unless real leaders in the Party step up.