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2015-10-22

Smith's Fall Forum or 'Whazzup in Washington?'

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

More than 50 constituents turned out for Congressman Lamar Smith's recent Fall Forum, held Monday, Oct. 12, at the Post 157 American Legion Hall. And, in Bandera County, 50 people - or less - can swing an election.
After welcoming elected officials who attended, Smith recalled an earlier foray into politics when he served as a Bexar County Commissioner. "At that time, you only had to get two people to agree with you and you could move the world," he said, adding, "In Congress you have to get 217 people to go along."
The immigration debate has changed significantly since Smith last visited Bandera County. Not only is the United States still faced with undocumented aliens pouring across its southern border, but now must also deal with the specter of admitting 10,000 Syrian refugees into the country.
"These refugees will immediately be eligible for every government benefit available," Smith explained. "They could settle in any country in Europe but America's benefits are more generous." According to Smith, although USA has always had a liberal policy on immigration, the current refugees pose a significant national security risk.
"There is no way to conduct background checks. Despite what the media portrays, for the most part, these refugees are not families with small children. They are young men who do not fit the usual refugee profile."
Without ways to identify those entering this country, Smith fears terrorists will be inadvertently admitted.
Smith also explained that recent data from Immigration, Customs and Enforcement (ICE) has undercut the contention that under this administration, more illegal immigrants have been deported to Mexico than at any other time.
"It's come to light that illegal immigrants who have been turned back at the border have been included in the statistics," Smith explained. "No other administration has included these numbers." In reality, deportation numbers have decreased in the last 10 years.
"If we had the will and desire to bring illegal immigration to a halt, we could do it," Smith said. He added, "Five years ago, a metric study was conducted on the border that determined only 15 percent of the border was secure." Smith is a member of the Congressional Border Security Caucus, a 70-member group that focuses solely on securing the border.
Another constant source of irritation for the Congressman is that of sanctuary cities. "I'm offended by the sanctuary city policy. This violates a bill I wrote years ago which is now law," Smith said. The 1996 law required municipalities to work with federal immigration authorities. "There are currently 350 sanctuary cities across the United States - a number that has doubled under this administration, and each year, 30,000 illegal immigrants are released from custody."
During a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, Smith asked Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson why the administration was "doing this to the American people?" According to Smith, Secretary Johnson replied, "I agree we shouldn't be doing it. We're working on it. We'll release less people next year."
Additionally, Smith noted, of those 30,000 illegals, within nine months of being released from custody 25 percent had been arrested again.
Smith spoke at length about the bipartisan STEM Education Act of 2015 (HR 1020), a bill he authored that was recently signed into law. The STEM bill was unanimously approved by both the House and the Senate.
The bill is designed to strengthen science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education efforts and expand the definition to include computer science.
"Compared to other industrialized nations, the United States ranks 21st in science and 26th in math," Smith said. "This represents a little change that has big consequences." Describing the current state of the country's educational system as "an abomination," concerned citizen George Hamilton asked, "Where are representatives of the Bandera school district at this meeting?"
"The three most underappreciated professions in this country are teachers, law enforcement officers and the clergy," Smith replied. He clarified, "The federal government has little to do with local education. It is funded by property taxes. Congress can't really do anything about education."
Ray Cox queried as to why nothing has been done to improve healthcare services for returning members of the armed services.
"Congress voted a bill that released $1 billion for new VA facilities and physicians," Smith said. "It also allowed vets to seek treatment at private facilities and be reimbursed. The bill also makes it easier to terminate employees."
However, he ceded that the VA has done little with the increased funding and only the head of the VA has been terminated. While another was forced to resign, no one has been prosecuted for the scandal.
"They should have gone to jail for falsifying records," opined a member of the crowd.
When asked about a possible government shutdown, Smith said, "Two months ago, when it looked like the government was going to run out of money, representatives said, 'We are not going to shutdown the government down.' Well, there's only one person who can shutdown the government and he's in the Oval Office. We gave away the store. What we need is stronger more conservative leadership."
Smith predicted the next shutdown crisis would occur on Thursday, Nov. 5.