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Rep. Gutierrez, Rep. Smith and the Battle for the Rule of Law

In recent weeks, Reps. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Lamar Smith (R-TX) have been engaged in an all out op-ed war, attacking each other’s positions on immigration reform. Guess which one has a plan worth getting behind?

On the Huffington Post, Rep. Gutierrez asks voters to help maintain momentum for comprehensive immigration reform, and makes it clear that the stakes are high: “A vote for any GOP House or Senate candidate is a vote for the status quo on immigration or worse.” And he didn’t hold back on naming names. The title says it all: “On Immigration, Are You a Lamar Smith-John Boehner-Steve King Republican?”

Rep. Smith takes to The Hill to launch his rebuttal: “Proud to Support the Rule of Law and Immigration.” From the first sentence, he gives us a distorted view of what’s really going on in the immigration debate. Smith claims that Gutierrez and other supporters of immigration reform criticize Republicans “for favoring enforcement of immigration laws.” The truth is a bit more nuanced: Smith and his restrictionist colleagues deserve criticism because they refuse to consider anything other than increased enforcement as a solution to our immigration crisis, the failed strategy we’ve pursued for decades.

Above all, Smith’s work puts forward the tired notion that only Republicans are concerned with immigration enforcement and the rule of law. He quietly ignores the fact that the Obama administration has deported more immigrants and audited four times more law-breaking employers than his GOP predecessor. Moreover, comprehensive immigration reform bills introduced in the House by Rep. Ortiz (D-TX) and the Senate by Sen. Menendez (D-NJ) both address immigration enforcement at length, while also creating an earned legalization program and modernizing our visa system.

Gutierrez had the final word in an essay pointedly titled “Proud to Support the Rule of Law and Immigration, Too.” He points out that the enforcement-only strategy favored by House actually serves to undermine the rule of law, because it drives undocumented workers and their employers further underground and off the books. Rep. Gutierrez presents a detailed plan based on the House bill to offer these workers a path to legal status that will enable them to pay more in taxes and participate in upholding our labor laws. In addition, he calls for modernizing the visa process so that future workers can contribute legally too. And, crucially, Gutierrez speaks to the need for a more effective employment verification system.

Most important, Gutierrez agrees with several analysts in calling out the basic hypocrisy that defines many Republicans’ immigration stance. As restrictionists demand ever increased enforcement measures to end undocumented immigration, they also refuse to support the corresponding legalization and visa reforms needed to actually achieve this goal. Gutierrez ends the piece by explaining:

Erecting barriers to legal immigration and legality, then railing against the illegalities and wrapping yourself in the rhetoric of the "rule of law" is a political strategy; it is not an immigration strategy.

Unfortunately, it seems to be working, as restrictionist candidates are poised to gain Congressional seats and governorships across the country. And if Republicans win the house, Smith will chair its Judiciary Committee, and ensure that his hollow immigration strategy will go further than ever.

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Posted at 3:37 PM, Oct 29, 2010 in Immigration
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