The Who's Who of Immigration Policy Making – the House Democrats

By David North on September 23, 2009

A congressional subcommittee may sound like a minor entity, but when it comes to lawmaking it is where much of the action takes place. Most of the provisions of any bill emerging from a subcommittee are likely to be in place when the parent body, the House or the Senate, takes final action on it.

There are two reasons for this, one more praiseworthy than the other. First, other members recognize that the subcommittee members are the experts on the subject, so Democratic members tend to support bills passed by Democratic subcommittees, and vice versa. The second reason, often working on the subconscious level, is that majority members of the fisheries subcommittee, for example, want other members to support their handiwork, so they tend to support the work of other subcommittees –- all else being equal.

If the devil is in the details, then the devil dwells in the subcommittees; that's where the hearings are held and the mark-ups take place. The latter is the section-by-section writing of the bill in question.

These processes are presided over, in the House, by Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), the chair of the House Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law. There are ten Democrats on the subcommittee and six Republicans.

The Democratic part of the subcommittee is one of the most ethnically diverse in the House; it includes four women and six men; there are two Chicanos, two Puerto Ricans, two Blacks, and four Anglos, with two of the latter being Jewish. (All six of the Republicans are Anglo males.)

There is no diversity on the Democratic side, however, when it comes to immigration policy. According to the grading system of Numbers USA, a restrictionist organization, all the Democratic members are awarded an F, with the exception of Maxine Waters (D-CA), who gets a D minus. Waters sometimes speaks out against illegal immigration, something that causes severe labor force competition for many of her Black constituents in Los Angeles.

The prospects of getting anything but an open borders bill out of this subcommittee would appear to be appear dim.

One of the reasons for this is the tendency of Black members to vote with the Hispanic Caucus on immigration matters; the politics of the floor (i.e., working with other minority group members) appears to trump the labor market politics of the home district.

The two Chicano members are Linda Sanchez (D-CA) who is sister to Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA), and Charles Gonzalez (D-TX), son of former Rep. Henry Gonzales (D-TX). The other Black member is Sheila Jackson Lee, (also D-TX).

The two Puerto Ricans are one full-fledged voting member of the House, Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL), and the new Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico, Pedro Pierluisi, who sits with the Democrats though on the island he identifies with the statehood organization, the New Progressive Party. While he has no vote on the floor of the House (and hence no rating by Numbers USA), he can and does vote in both the full committee and the subcommittee. Since there is virtually no international migration to Puerto Rico, and since its residents (as native-born U.S. citizens) can freely move to the mainland, it is puzzling why he joined this committee.

Rounding out the Democratic side of the subcommittee are Howard Berman (mentioned in my September 21 blog) (D-CA), William Delahunt (D-MA), and New York City's Anthony Weiner (D-NY).

While the Democrats are universally immigration fans, some of them have specialties. Lofgren, who represents Silicon Valley, is a strong backer of H1-Bs, many of whom do software for big employers in her area. Berman, as noted earlier, identifies with foreign farm workers, and Delahunt, also chair of an education subcommittee, is a strong advocate for foreign students.

If you enjoyed this blog, check out others in this series by David North: