Byron York

With Republicans now in control of the House Judiciary Committee, Attorney General Eric Holder and other Justice Department officials are going to be answering a lot of questions in the next two years. "We're going to start fast," promises Rep. Lamar Smith, new chairman of the committee, as he lists a bunch of priorities: immigration, national security, the constitutionality of Obamacare, lawsuit abuse, intellectual property and more.

There are many areas in which Republicans and Holder are likely to disagree, but the most contentious could be immigration, starting with the enforcement of federal laws to prevent the employment of illegal immigrants. Ask Smith what he'll be investigating, and it's the first thing he mentions. "One initial hearing will be on work-site enforcement," he says. "We want to find out why the administration is not doing more to enforce current laws. Workplace enforcement has dropped 70 percent under the Obama administration."

To Smith, that's a bad idea at any time, but particularly so in a period of 9.4 percent unemployment. "We need every available job in America to go to legal workers, to citizens and legal immigrants," he says. While the administration seems focused almost exclusively on illegal immigrants who have felony records, Smith wants to concentrate on workplaces, with more use of the E-Verify system and other ways to ensure that businesses hire only workers who are in the country legally. Talk to Republicans these days, and everything is about jobs. They campaigned by slamming Democrats for not paying enough attention to the issue in 2009 and 2010, and now that they are in power, they are determined to frame their actions in terms of jobs. So the bill to repeal Obamacare is titled the "Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act." Likewise, when Smith appeared on Fox News on Tuesday and was asked what he will do about illegal immigration, he answered simply, "The main thing we're going to do is create jobs for Americans."

At the moment, the focus on jobs means Smith is steering away from some of the hottest-button immigration issues. Asked about the Obama administration's lawsuit against the state of Arizona, the Texas Republican is quick to condemn it -- he says it is "misguided and unnecessary" and sends the message that the administration "is not interested in having our immigration laws enforced" -- but doesn't see much that he can do about it as chairman. "Not any more than I have already done, which is I have weighed in on the side of Arizona," Smith says. "That's now in the courts, and it is the courts who will make that determination."


Byron York

Byron York, chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner