The Republican attack agenda on undocumented immigrants

Rightly, Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Charles Gonzalez (D-Texas) called for Brooks’ statements to be repudiated and condemned. “Rhetoric referencing acts of violence has no place in the discussion for realistic solutions to our country’s immigration problems. Words have consequences -- and Congressman Brooks chose irresponsible words that reflect a hateful, dehumanizing undercurrent in the discussion on immigration,” Gonzalez said.

Just as harmful is what Republicans are doing. Lacking a magic wand to wish immigrants out of the U.S., House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) has embarked on a dangerous legislative path that is immoral, mean-spirited, and dehumanizing, and could even cost U.S. citizens their jobs.

This week, for example, the panel voted out of committee Smith’s “Keep our Communities Safe Act of 2010” which promotes fear to allow for the indefinite detention thousands of individuals such as asylum seekers. The bill would do away with U.S. constitutional protection against indefinite detention and would likely violate international human rights laws.

Another bill considered by the committee would eliminate the diversity visa system which provides 50,000 visas annually to immigrants from countries that send few people to the U.S. In one day, Smith advanced an agenda that jails deportable, undocumented immigrants and shuts the door on those trying to enter legally.

It gets worse. In coming days, the Judiciary panel also will consider a bill that would limit President Obama’s immigration enforcement authority, and would be in force only for the remainder of his term. Called the HALT Act, “Hinder the Administration’s Legalization Temptation Act,” it would be laughable if its potential harm were not so serious. It would prevent President Obama from prioritizing enforcement and deportation of criminals, terrorists and other dangerous individuals, over non-criminals like a long-standing member of the community who has committed no crime.

If President Obama was denied the ability to make any humanitarian exceptions in this area of immigration law, he would legally have more authority to pardon a convicted ax murderer than an undocumented immigrant. This measure would slam the door in the face of some of the most sympathetic individuals imaginable. If a deadly, massive earthquake were to hit a neighboring country, the administration would be powerless to make special provisions for the nationals of that country. The president would not have the power to stop the deportation of the wife of a soldier in Afghanistan who has been severely wounded and will need 24-hour care he returns to the U.S.

Where is the humanity?

The irony is that the powers Smith now proposes stripping from President Obama are the same ones he once supported to prevent the deportation of law-abiding immigrants. “Hard to explain the change,” a New York Times editorial wrote about Smith’s change in position, “although hypocrisy and rank opportunism seem likely.”

The Smith legislation that is a real jobs killer is his mandatory E-Verify proposal – a new government mandate – which would drive up business costs, dry up agri-business, cost taxpayers billions in lost tax revenues, and force almost four million U.S. workers to correct errors in the federal data base to stay employed. Do Republicans really want to do that in this economy?

Immigration deserves sensible solutions, not the politics of fear and vitriol. Smith and his allies need to change course for the good of our nation and our economy. 

Eliseo Medina is the international security-treasuer for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

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