Likely House Judiciary panel chairman is strong opponent of DREAM Act

The Republican lawmaker who is expected to take over the House Judiciary Committee has been a strong critic of immigration reform plans such as the DREAM Act.

That could pose problems for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who this week called for "comprehensive immigration reform."

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Hard-line immigration reform lawmaker Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) is expected to take the gavel of term-limited Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas). The panel has primary jurisdiction on immigration matters.

Goodlatte opposes efforts to create guest-worker programs, or grant amnesty to illegal aliens. He spoke out against the DREAM Act when the House voted on the measure in December of 2010, calling it “unfair” and “ripe for fraud.”

Goodlatte said that “the DREAM Act could mean mass amnesty for 2.1 million illegal immigrants...same thing occurred after the 1986 amnesty bill, the Immigration and Control Act, was enacted. Everyone said that was going to end illegal immigration. It opened the doors to more. This is going to do exactly the same thing.”


The Republican Party has been soul searching after Tuesday’s election, with 70 percent of the Latino vote going to President Obama. The DREAM Act is strongly supported by Obama and most congressional Democrats.

Boehner said as much at a press conference on Friday morning: “It's clear that as a political party we've got some work to do…clearly conversations are underway and will continue.”

Given Goodlatte’s stances on immigration, it is difficult to envision how the Virginia Republican would compromise with Democrats.

Goodlatte signed onto a bill to end birthright citizenship or so-called “anchor babies” in 2009. He has long supported an English as the official language resolution, and voted to build a fence along the Mexican border. He also supported a measure in 2004 that would require hospitals to report illegal immigrations seeking medical treatment.

A spokeswoman for Goodlatte did not comment for this article.

Immigration has long divided both parties, but has split the GOP more. Only eight Republicans in the House voted for the DREAM Act in 2010, two of which still serve in the lower chamber (Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.).

Former President George W. Bush's effort to pass comprehensive immigration reform was largely torpedoed by members of his own party.

Still, there are signs the party is heading in a new direction.

Conservative talkshow host Sean Hannity told listeners this week that his position on illegal immigration has “evolved.”

On Thursday, Hannity said “I think you control the border first, you create a pathway for those people that are here, you don't say you gotta go home. And that is a position that I've evolved on. … if people are here, law-abiding, participating, four years, their kids are born here ... first secure the border, pathway to citizenship ... then it's done.”

Goodlatte won’t be alone in the effort to tackle immigration reform. The Homeland Security Committee, which has jurisdiction over border security, will also play a role.

A close race to claim the gavel has begun among Reps. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), Candice Miller (R-Mich.) and Mike Rogers (R-Ala.).

However, current term-limited Committee Chairman Pete King (R-N.Y.) might seek a waiver for his perch.

The GOP Steering Committee has previously denied waivers to committee chairmen seeking to serve an additional term beyond the 3-term limit. They are likely to make an exception this year in the case of Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), fresh off his defeat as the GOP vice presidential nominee.

King told The Hill, “If Paul Ryan is given a waiver, I will discuss my situation with the Speaker.”

Regardless, Miller, Rogers and McCaul are proceeding as if King does not intend to seek a waiver, or as if the waiver request will be denied.

Miller, the only woman who would become a full House committee chairperson in the next Congress, has a lot of experience with border-security issues. She serves as chairwoman of the Homeland Security subcommittee on Border Security.

Since Boehner said he was “confident” that lawmakers could agree on a comprehensive immigration reform package, Miller has retooled her pitch to members of the Steering Committee to include her knowledge and actions on border security.

In her tenure as the head of that panel, Miller ushered through the “Secure Borders Act” – a measure that passed the House, only to lie stagnant in the Senate.

“When you see this comprehensive immigration reform coming like a train, on our side, we are all very interested in that issue, but we have to have a high degree of confidence that our borders are secure,” Miller said in an interview with The Hill.

Rogers, the most senior Republican member on the committee vying to be the chairman, agrees with Boehner’s approach, and would be “ready to craft legislation that helps unite members on common ground.”

“Speaker Boehner laid out a common sense strategy today: he said we should work on a step-by-step approach that strengthens border security, enforces laws already on the books, and reforms our broken immigration system,” Rogers said in a statement to The Hill, noting the “critical role” that Homeland Security would play on the issue.

McCaul also has a record of working on border security as chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight. He has held hearings on the drone programs monitoring the southern border, in concert with his close friend, Democrat Henry Cuellar (Texas).

McCaul told The Texas Tribune on Thursday that he believes Congress can deal with comprehensive immigration reform in the next two years, but conceded the process to figure out what to do with the undocumented unskilled workers would be a “contentious” matter.