By Sylvia Moreno
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 23, 2007
Rep. Lamar S. Smith may boast an A-plus voting record rating from the National Rifle Association, and he may be hailed in Republican circles for trying to inject firearms into a D.C. voting rights bill. But his crowning legislative achievement to date is a sweeping immigration reform bill that not only targeted illegal immigrants, but also foreigners living in the United States legally.
The Texas Republican, whose district encompasses part of San Antonio and several counties in central Texas Hill Country, authored the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 -- a law so far-reaching that analysts have compared it to "totally rewriting the tax code of the United States," according to the Texas Observer.
The IIRAIRA -- pronounced "Ira-Ira" -- dramatically affected the lives of many undocumented and legal immigrants. Among its provisions: Parole or bond for certain immigrants is severely restricted or eliminated. Deportation waivers are now rare. Minor infractions committed by legal permanent residents in the United States -- such as shoplifting or writing bad checks -- are now deportable offenses. And even if the infractions occurred decades ago, the legal immigrant is still deportable because the provisions of the law when it was signed were retroactive.
"He was the key author and the brains behind and the machine behind getting the 1996 immigration law passed which, from our perspective, was the harshest crackdown on immigrants in 70 years," said Angela Kelley, deputy director of the National Immigration Forum in Washington.
Smith, 59, was the chairman of the immigration subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee in 1996 during the construction of IIRAIRA and today is the ranking minority member of the same panel.
In introducing the motion to pull down the D.C. voting rights bill and send it back to committee with the provision that it be returned with a guarantee of the right to own firearms in Washington, Smith said, "It is high time we rectify this wrong."
"The prohibition of firearms in the District of Columbia is as ineffective and deplorable as it is unconstitutional," Smith said.
But his intended target was the full House seat for the District and an additional "at-large" representative for Utah, both of which he said he believes to be unconstitutional and will "have serious practical consequences." The bill, if enacted, "could lead to years of protracted litigation," Smith said.
In the past decade of his congressional tenure, Smith has been criticized by Democratic opponents and a few local newspaper columnists as being "a Beltway insider" out of touch with Texas who spends more time in his homes in Virginia and Massachusetts than in central Texas.
Nonetheless, Smith has handily won his seat for years, garnering 60 percent of the vote last fall in a district that had been redrawn by a federal court just a few months before.
Smith's Congressional District 21 was affected by the remapping of adjacent Congressional District 23, whose boundaries were redrawn to include more minority voters. That adjustment added four GOP-leaning Hill Country counties to Smith's district, in which two-thirds of the voters already voted Republican.
Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.