Goodlatte, the GOP and Immigration Reform Politics

by Ryan Campbell | February 6, 2013

“When (Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid) says there has to be a path to citizenship, I wonder whether he’s serious about doing immigration reform” said Representative Goodlatte, keeping with his previous unreasonable stubbornness on immigration.  Out of context, who cares?  He’s just one more Republican in a pre-2012 election mindset who comes from a strongly-Republican district where he has more of a threat of being “primaried” (challenged within his own party) than losing to a Democrat.  When you take into account that he is the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, however, he suddenly becomes the de facto gatekeeper as the rest of the decision makers line up behind immigration reform: Goodlatte is the last staunch holdout that could still really matter in an individual context.

Mitt Romney, trying to smile through an awkward moment as DREAMer Alan Palaez confronts and photographs him during the Republican Primaries in NH

Coming off an election where Republicans took a beating, taking a shrinking portion of a growing voter demographic amongst Asians and Latinos, even Sean Hannity started talking about a pathway to citizenship.  John Boehner, however, appointed Goodlatte to replace Lamar Smith.  Lamar Smith, the former head of the House Judiciary Committee, was accurately denounced as “one of the three most anti-immigrant voices in the GOP” by America’s Voice, and his departure from that authority was an opportunity for the GOP to remake their image.  They opted not to.

The GOP could have read into the election results and appointing a few minorities, i.e. women, Asians and Latinos, to key roles to help along legislation they may have a better understanding of or more sympathy for.  Instead, they sent the whitest guys you could imagine to every significant position.  Goodlatte is one of those caricatures of white maleness in a suit, the sort of guy you can imagine stirring a mint julep on a country club’s golf course complaining about how they think the help in the caddyshack, who their team now needs to vote for their friends, is stealing from them.  That julep guy is in the position to hold up immigration reform if he wants.

To call Goodlatte anti-immigrant is an understatement; a quick look at his record on immigration reveals he voted for a border fence; for preventing tipping off Mexicans about the Minutemen Project; for reported undocumented immigrants who receive hospital treatment; against extending immigrant residency rules and for ending birthright citizenship (dealing with the problem they call “anchor babies”).  Goodlatte was rated A+ by ALI, 100% by USBC and 100% by FAIR, all organizations which are very anti-immigrant and anti-immigration.

In addition, Goodlatte has gone pretty far out on his own anti-immigrant rhetoric: “I support the HALT Act, which would prohibit the Obama Administration from granting amnesty to those who illegally entered the country”; “I support efforts – like e-verify – to require employers to verify the legal status and work eligibility of employees”; “It is estimated that there are over 10 million illegal aliens currently living in our country… We must crack down on illegal immigration and enforce our current immigration laws.  In addition, we must not grant amnesty to individuals who have broken our laws.”  Goodlatte is on the record, voting against and rhetorically attacking programs like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), promoting e-verify and ranting about “no amnesty”; how did he get the job of Chair of the House Judiciary Committee?

There has been a strong narrative that the Republican Party has been split into several different factions that has prevented a single strong, coherent theme that the GOP could rally around other than fighting Obama and the Democrats.  Goodlatte Represents an older brand of Republican that fought against immigrant’s rights no matter what: this included the tragic killing of the Violence Against Women Act, about which Representative Goodlatte said he had “concerns about expanding the bill.”  These concerns were over provisions like additional visas to be issued to women who are dependent upon abusive spouses for their status: without that, they would be at their abusive husband’s mercy, or risk being separated from their children and put into an immigrant detention center, notorious for sub-standard conditions and sexual assaults by guards.

In the proposed Senate legislation, there is a glaring fly in the ointment: the Southwest border commission.  This commission will be comprised of local and state officials and community members.  It will be tasked with assessing the progress of border security measures, and judge whether certain “security conditions” have been met.

The Senate legislation establishes “security conditions” without giving specifics, and makes granting citizenships contingent on this.  Marco Rubio has suggested that the commission would have a veto power over any efforts to grant amnesty to undocumented immigrants, resting authority over immigration in the hands of political leaders in places like Arizona: this is becoming known as the “trigger issue.”

In another era where Republicans in the House of Representatives didn’t bring us to the bring of economic collapse several times leading us to have our credit rating downgraded, I would give Republicans the benefit of the doubt.  This is not that era, however.  Under current Senate legislation, we would be giving veto power to Southwestern officials like Jan Brewer and Joe Arpaio in Arizona who taut SB 1070 as an accomplishment for law enforcement.

Goodlatte Represents the old guard of GOP immigration, the sort of “self-deportation” rhetoric and policies that were so wildly unpopular during Romney’s campaign that he was comically crushed in those demographics: it was the sort of beating that starts out as sad and inspires sympathy when Romney was defeated by a large margin in front of his wife and kids, but then turns the corner to being funny as it goes through Karl Rove’s mental breakdown.

If Goodlatte is allowed to run wild in the current immigration debate the same way he has with his voting record and rhetoric in the past, we may not see effective immigration reform this year.  What would be more certain, however, would be that the Republicans will pay a price for this during the midterm elections.