Immigration Decision-Makers: Upcoming Committee Changes

By David North on November 3, 2010

How the election of 2010 will – or will not – alter the nation's immigration policies is not yet known, but we do know that it will shake up the array of decision-makers in the House, and will leave those in the Senate untouched.

On an issue as complex as immigration policy, the congressional subcommittee members play key roles; the subcommittee members know the issues better than their colleagues, and shape the proposed legislation, so who they are is significant. For descriptions of the work of the subcommittees, and for a current listing of the members of the House entity see here and for the Senate see here.

Incidentally, despite the defeat of many House members and two senators, all the members of these subcommittees, on both sides, were spared by the voters.

In the House there will not only be new chairs of the House Judiciary Committee and its immigration subcommittee, but there will be a substantial change of membership of those committees. In the Senate, there will be no comparable changes.

The House Judiciary Committee chair is currently the aging John Conyers (D-MI), a strong civil rights advocate from Detroit; and the subcommittee chair is former immigration lawyer Zoe Lofgren (D-CA). She represents a northern California district and is a fan of guest-worker programs, both for high tech industries (H-1B), and for agribusiness (H-2A).

There are currently ten Democrats on the subcommittee and six Republicans; those ratios are likely to be reversed.

While it is possible that someone now on the full committee who is given a chance to stay on that panel may want to leave, that is unlikely, if history and tradition are to be believed. That would suggest that Lamar Smith (R-TX), now ranking GOP member of the parent committee would become its chair and Steve King (R-IA) would chair the subcommittee.

It would also suggest that the four junior Democratic members of the subcommittee would be shuffled off the dais. These four all have strong open-borders voices, and a rich mix of migration, political, family and social ties.

They are, in order of seniority, Loretta Sanchez (D-CA), sister of Linda Sanchez (D-CA), who arrived in the House six years before Linda did. They are daughters of migrants from Mexico. Loretta stirred up controversy during the campaign when she said that the Vietnamese, who are numerous in her Orange County district, were trying to take it over. Her Republican opponent was Vietnamese.

Then there is Anthony Weiner (D-NY), a fast-rising Brooklyn pol, who was protegé to, and the successor (in the House) to Sen. Charles Schumer (D NY), chair of the Senate Immigration Subcommittee; Weiner is a one-time roommate to Jon Stewart, who remains a supporter.

Weiner sits next to Charles Gonzalez (D-TX), son to the late Rep. Henry T. Gonzalez (D-TX), whose parents were migrants from Mexico.

Rounding out the quartet of about-to-be ex-members of this subcommittee is Judy Chu, another D-CA, who is the first woman of Chinese ancestry to sit in the House; she, too, is the daughter of immigrants. (Again, if history is a guide, one or more of these four will probably return to the subcommittee at some point in the future.)

In addition to King, the following five current GOP members of the Committee are likely to return: Gregg Harper (R-MS), Elton Gallegly (R-CA), Dan Lungren (R-CA), and Jason Chaffetz (R-UT). Of these Lungren has the most immigration policy experience, having been a member of the House and of this subcommittee in the 1980s, before leaving the House to run for State Attorney General (twice successfully) and for Governor (unsuccessfully).

The six Democratic members who are likely to return include two white Californians, two members of the Black Caucus, and two Hispanics. These include Lofgren and Howard Berman, a long time member of the subcommittee who is not its chair because he has been serving as the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee; then there are Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX), and Maxine Waters (D-CA); and Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Pedro R. Pierluisi (D-PR).

Gutierrez has introduced a lengthy "comprehensive immigration reform" bill full of open-borders positions and has a strong interest in the subject. He had been considered, according to some press reports to be a possible candidate to succeed Richard Daley as Mayor of Chicago, but has dropped out of that race.

Pierluisi, who carries the title of Resident Commissioner, is the least likely member of this group. He is a former Attorney General of Puerto Rico but the island rarely attracts overseas migrants and his presence on the subcommittee is a bit of a mystery to me. It is not that Puerto Ricans are not interested in migration, but they are U.S. citizens and typically move to the U.S. mainland in a process which is outside the realm of Congress.

The Senate subcommittee is, of course, much smaller than that of the House, consisting of five Democrats and four Republicans. The ratio is likely to stay the same. The Democratic members are Charles Schumer (D-NY), a former member of the House subcommittee; Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chair of the full committee and a staunch open-borders person; Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Richard Durbin (D-IL), and the relative newcomer Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

The Republicans are John Cornyn (R-TX), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), and Jeff Sessions (R-AL).

Grassley and Durbin have introduced a useful H-1B reform bill, but I gather that Grassley is rather more enthusiastic about it than Durbin.

The prospects, which my CIS colleagues will probably discuss in more detail, lean more to deadlock and than to agreement.

With this set of players, and with these issues, it is hard to envision the kind of bipartisan compromise that led to the work of senators Al Simpson (R-WY) and Ted Kennedy (D-MA) that caused the passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. There was an across-the-aisles chemistry between those two men that, for better or for worse, seems to be missing today.