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How Would a Republican Congress Handle Immigration?

According to supporters of progressive immigration reform, not very well. A Republican-run House would put Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) in charge of the Judiciary Committee and Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) atop its immigration subcommittee — meaning the two border security hawks would have a major say in all immigration-related legislation running through the House, Politico reports today.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), who supports comprehensive immigration reform, evoked their names last week as “a guarantee of more gridlock and chaos.” “On immigration, the question is not whether you are a Pelosi-Obama Democrat, but whether you are a Lamar Smith-John Boehner-Steve King Republican,” he wrote in an op-ed. What, then, is a Lamar-Smith-John Boehner-Steve King Republican, and why should immigration reform supporters be afraid of it?

Both congressmen have been longtime proponents of harsher anti-illegal immigration laws. Smith helped lead the charge pass the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, which designated a large number of offenses as cause for deportation and created the 287 (g) program that deputizes local police to enforce immigration laws. He has also pushed for nationwide expansion of E-Verify, an employment verification system that critics say is too fraught with errors to be fully implemented.

King told Politico he has a number of other immigration-related plans if he helms he immigration subcommittee:

In an interview with POLITICO, King promised to interrogate Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Attorney General Eric Holder, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton and Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher about enforcement of immigration laws.

“We need to hear a considerable amount from [them] and start gathering the details on what is taking place on the border,” he said. “They’re not simply doing their job. They take an oath of office to see the laws are enforced. They’re not enforcing the laws.”

King rattled off a list of legislation he’d like to push to the floor: a birthright citizenship bill, legislation to reaffirm states’ right to enact Arizona-like immigration laws, a bill to take away deductions from employers who pay illegal immigrants and legislation to crack down on cities that don’t go after illegal residents.

The always-quotable King has a number of ideas for immigration that he did not mention. In 2006, he told Congress he wanted to build an electric fence along the U.S.-Mexico border to prevent illegal immigration. “We do that with livestock all the time,” he said. This summer, King said he would support “amnesty,” or a path to legal status for illegal immigrants already in the country, under one condition: “Every time we give amnesty for an illegal alien, we deport a liberal.”

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