In a decision that surprised many on both sides of the aisle, the new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Lamar Smith, last week passed over outspoken Representative Steve King (R-IA) to head the Immigration Subcommittee, favoring instead Representative Elton Gallegly (R-CA).
A day before, Tea Party member King had introduced a bill to deny automatic citizenship to children born in the United States to undocumented parents. King has earned a reputation as a hard-liner on immigration, and for controversial statements like his suggestion to use an electric fence to stop undocumented immigrants at the border, saying, “we do this with livestock all the time.”
So you might think that immigration-rights advocates are breathing a sigh of relief. Well, they’re not.
“There is no victory dance being had by anybody,” said Angela Kelley, at the Center for American Progress.
“Though he (Gallegly) might not be the firebrand that King is, he’s far from a friend of immigration,” said Ali Noorani, at the National Immigration Forum.
Immigration advocates say Gallegly, who represents a district in southern California, has a long clear record as a hawk on immigration. Like King, he would like to prevent the children of undocumented immigrants born in the U.S. from automatically becoming U.S. citizens. During the Clinton administration he pushed a bill that would have removed the right to k-12 public school education for undocumented youth.
Yet Gallegly certainly presents a quieter face to the nation than King would have. “Elton Gallegly probably has more filters when he speaks, and King doesn’t have any filters—he’s used pretty provocative imagery, from electric fences to referring to immigrants as cattle,” said Kelley.
While many members of the Republican party use vitriolic language when speaking about illegal immigration, others are beginning to shy away from that kind of rhetoric, which Kelley suggests might be a response to the country’s changing demographics.
“They need to get on the right side of history on this issue with the Latino community if they ever want to be redecorating the oval office,” she told Fi2W.
But Noorani says immigrants pay attention to what Congress does, and the choice of Gallegly isn’t going to win the GOP any votes in immigrant communities. “It’s going to be impossible for (House Speaker John) Boehner to hide behind a fuzzy decision if they’re still going to be passing bad immigration policy and separating families,” said Noorani.