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Update: The Results of the Elections and Immigration in the 112th Congress

November 09, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

The mid-term elections saw Republicans picking up more than 60 seats in the House of Representatives, enough to give them control.  The leadership change means not only does the Speaker of the House give up her gavel, but the chairmanship of all the committees and subcommittees change as well.


Committee Leadership


While it is too early to say what the precise makeup of the Committees will be, we do expect that the current top-ranking Republican members to assume leadership of the Committees having to do with immigration. 


Judiciary Committee: Lamar Smith (R-TX):  In the mid-1990s, Smith authored the law that became the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA).  Among other things, this law included summary exclusion for persons arriving in the U.S. without proper documents; the three- and ten-year bars to admissibility for persons deported from the U.S.; the one-year asylum filing deadline; the electronic worker verification system that has evolved into today’s E-Verify; the 287(g) program; and a mandate for an annual increase in the Border Patrol and construction of a “triple-tiered” border fence. By greatly expanding the definition of “aggravated felony,” applying punishment retroactively, and severely restricting judicial review, the law has resulted in the removal of thousands of legal immigrants who have committed minor crimes.


In its original form, the law would have reduced legal immigration by taking out parents of U.S. citizens from the “immediate relatives” category and eliminating the category for brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens.  (Smith’s effort to cut legal immigration was thwarted in the Senate.)


Smith has continued to be a tireless opponent of immigration reform and an advocate of more enforcement.  Recently, Smith has supported the rights of states to enforce immigration laws, legislation to end birthright citizenship, and mandatory application of the E-Verify electronic worker verification system.  See this member profile from the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and this article from Politico for more on Rep. Smith.


Regardless of any legislation he may try to advance, as Chair of the Judiciary Committee, Smith will be in a position to hold hearings where Administration officials will have to answer his charges that they are “ignoring” immigration laws.  A recent column posted on his Web site includes some of the assertions about the Obama Administration’s enforcement of immigration laws that he may turn in to topics of oversight hearings.


Immigration Subcommittee: Steve King (R-IA):  Representative King has been outspoken and extreme in his views about immigration.  In 2006, for example, he delivered remarks on the floor of the House while building a model of a border wall that he felt should be built, including an electrified wire on top to act as a “disincentive for people to climb over the top or put a ladder there.”  After all, according to King, “[w]e do that with livestock all the time.” 


In an interview with Politico, King announced that he would like to see legislation to end birthright citizenship, to reaffirm states’ right to enact Arizona-like immigration laws, to take away deductions from employers who pay illegal immigrants, and to crack down on cities that don’t go after illegal residents.


For more information on Rep. King, see AILA’s member profile of him.  You can read more of Rep. King’s choice words on immigration here.


Homeland Security Committee: Peter King (R-NY) is currently the ranking Republican on the Homeland Security Committee.  There is a question as to whether King will be given the Chairmanship; the Republican caucus has term-limit rules for leadership of committees.  Should he obtain a waiver to the rule, he told Congressional Quarterly that, regarding immigration, the Committee will push for legislation focused on “law enforcement both at the border and in the interior United States.”


Rules Committee:  The House Rules Committee is the last stop for legislation before it is considered on the House floor.  The Rules Committee decides the terms of debate on legislation.  Unlike the Senate, where Senators can spend days considering amendments and hundreds of amendments may be considered, the Rules Committee in the House will decide which amendments will be considered before debate begins.  The Rules Committee under Democratic leadership has been helpful by not allowing many amendments proposed by immigration hard-liners.  (The amendments are often extraneous or “non-germane” to the bill being considered.)  With leadership now in Republican hands, we can expect that more restrictionist amendments will be allowed on a variety of legislation unrelated to immigration debated in the House.  David Dreier, currently the ranking member on the Committee, is expected to assume leadership.  On his Web site, Dreier touts his sponsorship of H.R. 98, which would require all workers to present a Social Security card with machine-readable information establishing work authorization when they apply for a job.  In the 110th Congress, he was a co-sponsor of a bill that would have, among other things, required the hiring of 18,000 more Border Patrol agents.


New Members:  According to the Center for American Progress, of the more than 100 freshman Republicans of the 112th Congress, “39% have already declared their intention to end the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of birthright citizenship.”  Almost a third want to reduce legal immigration.


Newly-elected members include Lou Barletta (R), who will represent Pennsylvania’s 11th District.  As Mayor of Hazelton, he pushed through a local ordinance in 2006 to deny business permits to companies that employ undocumented immigrants, and to fine landlords who rent to them.  (The law was later struck down as unconstitutional.)  Rand Paul (R), the Senator-elect from Kentucky, said on his campaign Web site that he opposes “amnesty” and favors building “an electronic fence” along the Southwest border.  He also favors ending birthright citizenship.  Tea Party favorite Marco Rubio will be Florida’s new Senator.  He is of Cuban-American descent, but has taken a hard line on immigration.  On his Web site, he says that regarding immigration, he believes “that our nation’s immigration policy should consist of border enforcement, securing the border, fixing the visa process and ensuring that no law extends amnesty to illegal immigrants.”


State Governorships and Legislatures


In addition to the turnover in Congress, Republicans made big gains among State Governorships and legislatures.  Of the 37 states that held gubernatorial elections, there were 29 Republican wins verses 18 Democrats.  In state legislatures, Republicans added more than 675 seats to their ranks, and made some historic takeovers—for example, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Republicans now control the Minnesota Senate for the first time in history.  The Republican tilt in state governments will affect the outcome of efforts to adopt state and local anti-immigration measures, including legislation modeled after Arizona’s SB 1070.


Prospects for Progress


While prospects for positive immigration reform legislation getting through the 112th Congress will be remote, any effort to enact hard-line enforcement-only legislation will face the same question that pro-reform advocates have faced in the 111th Congress: Are there 60 votes in the Senate?  As the Washington Independent put it,


A Democratic Senate will have trouble getting immigrant-friendly measures past the House, while the House will have trouble getting enforcement-only measures past the Senate — or the president’s desk. The result will likely be more of the same on immigration policy.


Prospects for Republicans in the next election may be influenced by how prominently they feature the anti-immigration, enforcement-only agenda of immigration restrictionists in their party.  Will Republicans allow Steve King and Lamar Smith to be the face of the Republican Party on the immigration issue?  If so, they may feed a trend where Latinos—the fastest-growing portion of the electorate—have been migrating to the Democratic Party.  In this election, Latinos in some key states voted overwhelmingly Democratic and helped Democrats retain control of the Senate.  The use of immigration as a divisive wedge issue backfired in some very important races, motivating Latinos to go to the polls to punish the politicians who portrayed them as criminals.  (For more on how Latinos acted in this election, see this Immpolitic blog post.)  Over the next two years, Republicans will have to decide whether they will continue to alienate Latino voters, or change their tune on immigration and offer real solutions for our broken immigration system, not divisive sound bites.

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