Rep. Lamar Smith on How to Reform U.S. Immigration

U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) joined American Greatness Publisher Chris Buskirk on the radio this week to discuss the explosive Nunes memo as well as how to reform America’s dysfunctional immigration system. Smith details where he agrees and disagrees with President Trump’s proposal to strengthen the border while offering a “path to citizenship” for 1.8 million so-called “Dreamers.” Listen to the audio and read the transcript.

Chris Buskirk: I am Chris Buskirk. He is Seth Leibsohn. Welcome back to The Seth and Chris Show. As promised, or as we say in the business, as teased in the last hour, I’m very pleased to be joined by Congressman Lamar Smith. He represents Texas 21st District. Congressman, welcome to the show.

Lamar Smith: Good to be with you, and good to be with your listeners as well.

Chris Buskirk: Am I right in thinking that you have represented that district since late ’80s?

Lamar Smith: (laughs) That’s correct.

Chris Buskirk: Okay, so, in the capital, you’ve found where the water fountain is and the gym is by now, you know your way around?

Lamar Smith: And not only that, I have a post card view of the capitol and a parking space next to the elevator, and I’m giving it all up because I’m not running for re-election. I just finished six years as chairman of the science committee, and we’re term limited on our side.

Before that, I was chairman of the judiciary committee, so I’ve enjoyed my time in Congress. Nothing else I’d rather be doing, but the time has come.

Chris Buskirk: Are you going to go back to Texas?

Lamar Smith: Yes. Hope to spend more time in San Antonio, my home. I’ve got two new grandchildren, my first, and look forward to seeing them more often.

Chris Buskirk: Very good. Very good. So, look, we’re going to talk about immigration.

Lamar Smith: Sure.

Chris Buskirk: This is something that I know is near and dear to your heart. Mine as well. But the news of the day is the memo that was released today. Do you have anything to add on that?

Lamar Smith: Oh my goodness. That memo is just absolutely devastating to democracy. We have our premier law enforcement agency, the FBI, who apparently relied upon a Clinton campaign-compiled document that in turn relied upon a suspect Russian operative, and they used that campaign file report by the Clinton campaign to justify spying on an innocent American violating their rights, and that innocent American was connected with the Trump campaign.

So, you had the FBI using a fraudulent document, almost to justify spying on a citizen who was working for the Trump campaign. I haven’t seen anything like this in my time in Congress or before, and I think the president and the Attorney General understandably might ask for the resignation of anybody who relied upon that campaign document to, I think, unconstitutionally and break laws and spy on an innocent U.S. citizen.

Chris Buskirk: Yeah, and they didn’t pick Carter Page out of a hat, right? They picked him precisely because he worked for or with the Trump campaign. The ultimate target there was candidate Trump, ultimately President Trump.

Lamar Smith: Right, maybe I didn’t say Trump awhile ago, but it was the Trump campaign, and the FBI used the Clinton report to justify spying on the Trump campaign. That’s just unheard of, anyone connected with that. But they really need to clean house and start over again.

Chris Buskirk: As a friend of mine likes to say, worse gets worser when you the memo and you find out that the FBI, when they went to the FISA court, that they concealed from the court the source of their information. Not once, but four times.

Lamar Smith: Yeah. Even worse, the judge ought to be outraged as well. But anyone associated with that needs to, frankly, be asked to resign, and they need to … For the sake of the FBI, the FBI has had a great reputation. They deserve to have a great reputation, but the reputation has now been sullied, and the only way to clean house is to ask those folks to resign.

Chris Buskirk: Yeah, I couldn’t agree with you more. My go-to phrase all week has been sunlight is the best disinfectant.

Lamar Smith: Yes, yes. Much used by a Supreme Court justice.

Chris Buskirk: That’s right. Yeah, exactly right.

Congressman, let’s switch gears. I know that’s not why you came on the show. Talk to me about immigration. Let me I guess start with this question. I want to leave aside the president’s latest proposal, partially because it’s too hard for me to utter aloud.

Lamar Smith: (laughs)

Chris Buskirk: What do you make of the Goodlatte bill that was proposed a couple weeks ago, or three weeks ago, I guess?

Lamar Smith: I have co-sponsored Bob Goodlatte’s bill and was with him on our Republican retreat over the last couple of days trying to round up more co-sponsors. We’ve got good support among Republicans for it. If I could amend it, I would. If I could improve it, I would. But I think it’s the best we can get under the circumstances, and so when something’s 80 or 90 percent good, I thought we ought to be for it.

I particularly like the fact that he’s included my E-Verify bill, which I think is the most important step we could take to reduce illegal immigration. Because when you check the status of new employees to make sure they’re entitled to work in the United States, if you reduce that job’s magnet, that’s a disincentive for people to come across the border here illegally and try to get jobs, because they won’t be able to get jobs. They’re not in a legal status.

It also, besides reducing illegal immigration, is going to protect those jobs for unemployed and underemployed Americans and even legal immigrants. So, it is the most popular immigration reform. Going to the polls, 82 percent of the American people support it. Obviously they want to protect jobs for American workers. But that’s the most support of any kind of immigration reform we’re talking about. It’s very popular. A third of all employees are already covered by it voluntarily by their employers. Fifteen hundred more employers sign up for it every single week. It’s 98.6 percent accurate. I don’t know of another agency or a program that has that kind of accuracy. The 1.4 percent that are misidentified, almost all those are cleared up within three days. So, it couldn’t be better. We just need to have E-Verify, and that’s an important part of the package.

Illegal immigration reforms are important. Making sure that we admit immediately family members by giving a greater preference for those with the skills and education we need in America. That way, they’re going to be able to find a job, provide for their families, and those skilled kind of immigrants we need. We do not need, in my opinion, hundreds of thousands and millions of unskilled, uneducated immigrants. It’s no surprise that they’re twice as likely to be on some type of government welfare, and it’s perhaps not so surprising that many of them cost the taxpayers a lot of money. Because when you’re unskilled and uneducated, you’re still gonna get Social Security, but you’re gonna get back 100,000 or more than you paid into it, so it’s going to be a drain on Social Security as well.

Chris Buskirk: Yeah, there’s an interesting study done at Harvard of all places. Now, the purpose is to which they put this study were a little different, but it shows that about a quarter of all DACA recipients are functionally illiterate in English and that DACA recipients are four times as likely to drop out of high school as either native born U.S. citizens or as recent legal immigrants.

Lamar Smith: Yeah, in a way, that’s no surprise, but it is discouraging, and that’s another reason I think that we need to really reduce to a minimum the number of DACA individuals who are given any kind of amnesty or legalization. We certainly, in my view, don’t need the much larger program frankly proposed by President Trump. He’s proposed giving amnesty to more than twice as many people as even President Obama did, plus give them citizenship. And if we did something for a narrower number, that’s one thing, if we get a lot of border security in return and if we get E-Verify in return and we get legal immigration reform, then that’s something to consider. But the president’s gone a little bit farther than I’m willing to go, and plus, he doesn’t even have E-Verify in his proposal as well, so I’m hoping that they all reconsider and include E-Verify in their future negotiating talks about immigration.

Chris Buskirk: Yeah, I do, too. I don’t frankly like the way that they talk about so-called ending chain migration in the president’s proposal. My understanding is it’s different than the way you guys have proposed it in your bill.

Lamar Smith: Yes. And I think we’ve done it the right way in this bill. And might I just give everybody a little bit of context. The United States of America is the most generous country in the world. We admit over a million immigrants every year, and last year I think we had over 1.2. And it’s been that way for decades. We’ve never seen anything, this is record-breaking every year as far as the number there coming into our country. So, we’re the most generous country in the world, and that gives us the right and the responsibility to say to a lot of these would-be illegal immigrants there’s a right way and a wrong way to come into our country, and the right way is to play by the rules, wait your turn in line as millions have done before you, and wait to be one of those one million who are admitted every year. It’s around 760,000 in the Goodlatte bill.

But the American people in a recent poll, I think it was perhaps that Harvard poll, where over half the American people, a majority of the American people, want us to admit 500,000, half a million or fewer immigrants, and we’re more than double what the American people want right now. So, let’s admit people with the skills and education who are gonna be able to contribute to our economy. Every other industrialized nation gives preferences. Canada gives five different preferences. I think it’s language, it’s age, it’s skills, it’s education, so forth. So, let’s admit individuals who can contribute, not individuals who are gonna necessarily go on welfare and cost the taxpayers.

Chris Buskirk: Congressman, can you stay with me for one more segment?

Lamar Smith: Yes.

Chris Buskirk: Very good. Congressman Lamar Smith from the 21st Congressional District is my guest. We’re going to go to a quick break, and when we come back, we’ll talk about why immigration in the first place. Let’s start with the first principles. What does any country have to think about when they think about immigration? How does that inform sensible policy on citizenship and on sovereignty? I’m Chris Buskirk, he’s Seth Leibsohn, and we’ll be right back.

I am Chris Buskirk. He is Seth Leibsohn. This is the Chris and Seth Show. Welcome back. We’re joined by Congressman Lamar Smith from the 21st Congressional District in Texas. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us on a Friday. Are you in Texas or are you still in D.C.?

Lamar Smith: No, I’ve just got back from a Republican retreat in West Virginia. I’m actually at my desk in D.C.

Chris Buskirk: Oh, wow. See, that is dedication. No wonder you want to retire and head back to Texas.

Lamar Smith: (laughs) Well, I’m going through a lot of files in old boxes right now and will be over the weekend, and then we’ll be back in Texas next weekend.

Chris Buskirk: Oh, very good. Let me ask you the big question, right. You know, I always think people almost tend to jump over some of the first things to get to the policy. But I think this about E-Verify. I think that this many people should be admitted. The metaphysical question: Why immigration? What should a country look for in immigration? Why do we want it or not want it? How do you think about it?

Lamar Smith: Yeah, and I agree with the president entirely on this. We need to have an immigration policy that’s in the best interest of America. It may or may not be in the interest of foreigners who want to come to our country or immigrants who want to enter, but the overriding priority needs to be the interest of the American people and American workers and American taxpayers. And, to me, that would lead to the conclusion that we may not want to discontinue admitting over a million legal immigrants every year when I think close to half of them don’t have a high school education, probably not much money, and we just don’t need to keep admitting people who aren’t necessarily going to contribute to our economy or even be able to take care of themselves.

What that level is, I don’t know, but we really never addressed that. A number of years, a very liberal Democrat, Barbara Jordan from Texas, studied it for a couple years and came out with a recommendation that illegal immigration levels ought to be around 450, 500,000. That’s less than half what it is today, and I think that was a good template. We do need some immigrants, and we want to allow individuals to come into the United States who have good reasons, who might have immediate family members here. Those are some legitimate reasons, but I think we’ve gotten far beyond that, and we need to get back to one, enforcing immigration laws and two, maintaining our sovereignty. We have every right to defend our borders. We have every right to know who’s coming into our country and why they’re coming and what they might be doing.

And right now, we have close to 400,000 people entering our country illegally, and we have another 400,000, maybe close to 500,000, people who are coming in on short-term visas, like tourist visas, who never return home and therefore are in illegal status. And most people don’t realize that. You know, that’s close to a million people a year either coming into our country or getting into illegal status, and that’s on top of the over million legal immigrants who are coming in every year. That’s why we’re coming up on a point where the percentage of the immigrant population is going to be at a record high. We’ve seen something close to that at the early 1900s, but after the early 1900s, we went through a period of 40 or 50 years of almost no immigration just so people could get assimilated and become Americans. And it wouldn’t hurt for us to focus more on the need for assimilation so that people do become Americans.

Chris Buskirk: Oh, I couldn’t agree with you more. You know, there was this big wave of immigration from 1880 to 1925, but then from 1925 to 1965, there was a major pause, and we were able to pause and digest and assimilate. A friend of mine who you may be aware of is Professor Angelo Codevilla, who’s at the Hoover Institution. He worked on the Hill in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during the—

Lamar Smith: Uh-huh.

Chris Buskirk: —Reagan Administration. He wrote something for a journal I edit called American Greatness that says “Trump Risks Debasing American Citizenship.” Codevilla’s an immigrant himself. He and his mother immigrated to the United States in 1955, at a time when then there was minimal immigration. I want to read you a sentence he wrote for us. He says, “My mom had answered a job offer from America. My school report cards were examined. All who stood as our ship passed by the Statue of Liberty had undergone intensive interviews about our attitude to America and everything else including politics and religion. None of spoke English yet, but we all yearned to assimilate.”

Lamar Smith: Ah. That’s wonderful. That’s the exact right attitude to have (laughs), to tell you the truth.

Chris Buskirk: Can I read you the final sentence of that paragraph?

Lamar Smith: Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t—

Chris Buskirk: You’ll like this, too. He says, “Had anyone suggested that we avail ourselves of public assistance, we would have shuddered in incomprehension and horror.”

Lamar Smith: Oh my gosh. Well, there’s actually in law today the provision that one cannot be admitted if they’re likely to become a public charge. That has never been enforced in decades.

Chris Buskirk: Along with most of our other immigration laws it seems like, yeah. Yeah, there was much more of a common sense approach to immigration in mid-century America, in the 20th century America. What do you think it takes us to get back to that?

Lamar Smith: Oh, it’s gonna start with the American people. All reform starts with the voice of the people, and they’re going to have to demand that their representatives and Congress and everywhere else do what’s good for America and quit putting their focus on what’s best for people who don’t live in this country. Your heart goes out to them, but we cannot accommodate everybody, and we need to put our own American workers and taxpayers first. But it’s gonna take a public uprising, and unfortunately it’s hard to get the American people the facts because the national liberal media is so biased. The American people aren’t getting the facts. They’re not getting the truth about immigration. We’re just gonna have to keep talking about it and getting our message out there.

Chris Buskirk: Congressman, I think we maybe have a chance at that. People are talking about immigration today in a way that they once did not. Not only a couple years ago really. And I think a big part of that is because Donald Trump talked about it on the campaign trail and as president. But, let me ask you a real practical, political question. There are people in our own party, Republicans who are for open borders, who are for massive amnesties. At a practical level, do they understand that amnesty probably means the death of the Republican Party, means never electing a Republican president again?

Lamar Smith: Yeah. Well, there are good policy reasons to change our immigration policy. And then, as you just suggested, there are political reasons as well, and I’ll give you a couple of figures that only five percent of illegal immigrants who become legal, for one of several reasons, identify with the Republican Party. Five percent. And as far as nationalized citizens, and we nationalize something like 750,000 people a year, only 25 percent of those individuals identify themselves as Republicans. This is a game the Democrats can’t wait to keep playing with us forever, and they know exactly how these individuals are likely to vote, and I think that’s one reason why you see so many people for open borders. They’re looking at future voters. And that has to be considered, I think, and is considered obviously by both parties. But you can’t let the Democrats in this case turn immigration into a political ploy, or at least we should be aware of what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.

Chris Buskirk: Yeah, if you think as I do that the Republican Party is the vessel of the ideas that made this country great, an imperfect vessel we all admit, but really is the vessel, then the idea that we would cede power to the Democrats more or less permanently means that you cede the principles of the founding as well.

Lamar Smith: Because of those votes by newcomers, we’ve already lost California and New York and New Jersey.

Chris Buskirk: Right.

Lamar Smith: If these immigration trends continue, we’re gonna lose Florida and Nevada next and then eventually Texas, in presidential contest and then perhaps among members of Congress as well.

Chris Buskirk: Congressman, you hear the music. We’ve gotta leave it there, but thanks so much. This was just a fantastic discussion. I appreciate you taking the time on a Friday night.

Lamar Smith: Well, Chris, good to be with you. Thank you.

Chris Buskirk: Thanks. That was Congressman Lamar Smith from the 21st Congressional District in Texas. We’re going to have to leave it there. On the other side of this break, we have Michael Walsh coming up. I’m Chris. He’s Seth. We’ll be right back.

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2 responses to “Rep. Lamar Smith on How to Reform U.S. Immigration

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