Democrats have shifted ever-farther left on immigration, with a single-minded focus on amnesty, Rep. Lamar Smith (R., Texas) said during a Wednesday appearance.
Smith, who has represented Texas in the House since 1987, is expected to retire at the end of this term. On Wednesday morning, he joined the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) for a discussion of his more than 30 years of work on the issue of immigration, including legislation pushing nationwide E-Verify and the construction of a border fence.
In his comments, the congressman was reticent to say that Republicans could lose the House in the November election, even though forecasts indicate a possible Democratic takeover. Still, as the outgoing de facto dean of the House's immigration hawks, Smith was very clear about what he thought Democrats would do if they took control of the lower house.
"I think it's going to be amnesty number one, number two, and number three," Smith told event moderator and executive director of CIS Mark Krikorian.
Smith predicted that an amnesty—for DACA recipients and maybe more—would take precedent over other, more controversial proposals like abolishing U.S. Immigrations and Custom Enforcement. The idea has been popular with members of the Democratic Party's left wing, including 2020-hopefuls Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.).
But, Smith argued, Democrats are not "irrational" enough to push through ICE abolition. "I just don't believe it," he said, adding, "I think the American people are opposed." Polls have consistently found less-than-majority support for the idea, even among Democrats.
In Smith's estimate, the Democratic Party has shifted radically on immigration over the past 30 years. He remembered with fondness Rep. Barbara Jordan, a fellow Texan and Democrat whose 1990 Commission on Immigration Reform advocated for a transition to a merit-based immigration system of the sort envisioned by 2017 Republican proposals like the RAISE Act.
The legal immigration reforms proposed by the Jordan Commission did not make it into law. But the tightening of illegal immigration enforcement it proposed did in part, in the form of the bipartisan, President Clinton-signed Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996.
This sort of bipartisan spirit has since been lost, in Smith's estimation, for two reasons. Half of the problem he blames on immigration activist groups on the left, which he thinks now see open borders as their ultimate policy goal. The other half is that Democrats, Smith thinks, view illegal immigration and associated amnesties as a way to expand their voter base.
Smith also blames Democrats for the lack of nationwide use of E-Verify, the federal system for confirming that a job applicant is a citizen or has a work permit. "The beauty of E-Verify is that it shuts off the jobs magnet," Smith said, insisting that the program was a vital part of slowing the flow of people seeking jobs across the border. (Evidence from Arizona's statewide implementation of the program confirms its efficacy.)
The program is supported by a significant majority of Americans, and according to Smith it even has the backing of big business. But the Congressman once again blamed Democrats, for whom stopping illegal immigration is not a concern.
While Smith is somber about the future of immigration in the Democratic Party, he does see at least one silver lining: President Donald Trump. Trump's immigration hawkery has been distressing, even offensive, to the media and many Democratic politicians. But to Smith, the president is a breath of fresh air.
"I have been waiting more than 30 years for a president who will enforce immigration laws," Smith told Krikorian, "and I think we finally have that president."
Smith called Trump a definite "plus" on the direction of immigration policy. He highlighted Trump's support for actually enforcing the public charge doctrine, a statutory requirement that immigrants not use welfare, but which has been largely ignored for the past several decades.
While not specifically endorsing the policy, the congressman defended Trump from some criticisms of his controversial zero-tolerance border enforcement policy, which led briefly to the separation of parents and children at the border. Although Smith acknowledged the concerns of many about the now-ended policy, he insisted that we need also to be aware of the perverse incentives in allowing people who enter illegally to go unprosecuted simply because they have a child with them.
"One thing you cannot do is allow someone who comes in with children illegally to get a free pass," Smith said.