By Mike Lillis - 01/28/13 05:13 PM EST
An influential House Republican on Monday panned the bipartisan immigration deal emerging from the Senate as providing “amnesty” to illegal immigrants.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said the immigration-reform principles floated by a bipartisan group of senators would reward lawbreakers, increase unemployment and push enormous new costs onto U.S. taxpayers.
"When you legalize those who are in the country illegally, it costs taxpayers millions of dollars, costs American workers thousands of jobs and encourages more illegal immigration," Smith said in a brief statement. "By granting amnesty, the Senate proposal actually compounds the problem by encouraging more illegal immigration.”
Since November's elections, immigration reform has risen near the top of Congress's to-do list. Both parties have signaled an openness to dealing with the issue on a bipartisan basis, with Republicans hoping to repair their image with Hispanic voters ahead of the 2014 election.
President Obama is expected to unveil a comprehensive approach of his own on Tuesday in Las Vegas.
The citizenship provision is the thorniest, and the one that's largely responsible for sinking efforts from lawmakers in both parties to overhaul the system over the last decade.
Although the Senate immigration principles have been endorsed by a number of influential Republicans — including Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.) — Smith's remarks are a warning that opposition to such a move is still alive and well, particularly in the Republican-led House.
Smith, the former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee who now sits on the panel's Immigration subcommittee, did not spare his Republican colleagues in attacking the Senate blueprint.
“No one should be surprised that individuals who have supported amnesty in the past still support amnesty," he said.
NumbersUSA, a group that helped kill the last immigration reform push in 2007, came out against the Senate proposal on Monday and vowed to mobilize its supporters against it.
“If the Senate were serious about reforming our failed immigration system, the first step of their plan would be immediate, mandatory use of E-Verify — the workplace enforcement measure that ensures jobs are only given to U.S. citizens and those who are here legally,” said Rosemary Jenks, NumbersUSA’s director of government affairs.
“Instead, the Senate Gang's proposal is ‘Amnesty 2.0’ — meaningless enforcement measures, mass amnesty, and increases in legal immigration, with taxpayers left to foot the bill.”
The Senate group has endorsed an E-Verify system to remove illegal immigrants from the workforce. Employers who knowingly hire illegal workers would face fines and criminal penalties, under its plan.