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As Incoming Judiciary Chairman, Goodlatte Will Face Immigration, Criminal Law, Civil Rights

The current chairman of the Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement, Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., is retiring and his successor is still unclear. But Goodlatte, a former immigration attorney, would play a central role in the legislation regardless of who is chairman of the subcommittee. Goodlatte could present a significant obstacle for Obama’s immigration agenda if the president is re-elected.

Goodlatte has taken a hard line on immigration and voted for Smith’s bill (HR 2885) mandating all employers to use an online employment verification system known as E-Verify to prevent undocumented workers from applying for jobs. The Judiciary Committee approved the bill in September 2011 but the House has yet to take it up.

He criticized the Obama administration’s June 15 announcement that it would grant a reprieve to qualified young people brought to the country illegally as children. He introduced legislation (HR 704) that would do away with a diversity visa program that grants 55,000 green cards via lottery each year and instead voted in favor of a bill last month that would reserve those visas for foreign high-tech graduates of American universities. He also supports bills to grant more immigration enforcement authority to the states (HR 100) and to restrict the administration’s ability to grant deportation reprieves (HR 2497).

But Goodlatte’s style differs from Smith’s.Smith often adopted a hard-charging tone — frequently blasting press releases and demanding documents from administration officials. Goodlatte is likely to take a quieter approach, according to advocates and lobbyists. Smith is more likely than Goodlatte to “make waves,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that calls for tighter controls on immigration.

It remains to be seen whether Goodlatte will try to shepherd bills through the committee to expand pathways for legal citizenship even if that alienates Republican conservatives. Should he decide to compromise with the Democrats, he could find some cover from prominent Republicans such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush or former White House strategist Karl Rove who have both called on the GOP to soften its stance on immigration, said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, which advocates on behalf of immigrants.

“He’ll be able to point to pressure from conservatives as a reason to engage in a practical conversation,” he said. “He doesn’t have to just listen to the right-wing extremists when it comes to immigration.”

Dennis Cardoza, a California Democrat who worked with Goodlatte on agricultural and other issues before retiring earlier this year, praised the Republican as “very engaging and very willing to work on a bipartisan basis.”

But Cardoza said much will depend on House leaders. “I doubt he would strike out on his own on an issue like immigration without the support of leadership,” Cardoza said.

Civil Rights Questions

Debate over civil rights laws that have long been a focus of the Judiciary Committee could gain urgency on Goodlatte’s watch. Concern over voting rights is among such issues, especially after an election year in which Democrats and Republicans have battled over state laws requiring voters to present photo identification at the polls.

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