WASHINGTON — House leaders chose a vocal opponent of illegal immigration to head up the chamber's immigration subcommittee, which will play an integral role in the upcoming debates on how to reform the nation's immigration laws.
Incoming House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., announced Tuesday that Rep. Trey Gowdy, a former South Carolina prosecutor who was part of the GOP freshman wave of 2010, will head the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security.
During the presidential campaign, Republican candidate Mitt Romney took a hard stance against illegal immigration. President Obama went on to win the Hispanic vote 71%-27%, leading many to call on the GOP to moderate its stance on immigration.
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which opposes plans to legalize the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants, said Gowdy's appointment means the GOP isn't about to cave in.
"What it suggests is that the House Republicans aren't going to allow themselves to be stampeded by this amnesty panic because Gowdy is pretty hawkish on immigration," Krikorian said.
Gowdy opposed the Obama administration's decision to grant deferred deportations to some young illegal immigrants. He co-sponsored a law titled the "Prohibiting Back-door Amnesty Act" aimed at reversing that decision. And he co-sponsored a bill that would have stopped the Department of Justice from suing states such as Arizona, Alabama and South Carolina that passed tough illegal immigration laws.
His brief record earned him a grade of "A-" from NumbersUSA, a group that wants to lower levels of legal and illegal immigration.
Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice, a group that supports a plan giving the country's illegal immigrants a chance at citizenship, said Gowdy's appointment will make it harder for Republicans who want to restore the party's standing with Hispanic voters.
"If the Republican Party wants to get right on immigration reform that puts 11 million immigrants on the road to citizenship, I suspect they'll have to go around (Gowdy) or over him," Sharry said.
Galen Carey, vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals, isn't so sure. He recently met with dozens of GOP lawmakers to talk about the need to legalize the country's illegal population, and he said he felt a "sea change" from onetime hard-liners.
"Past performance is no guarantee of future results," Carey said. "We're getting a clear sign that people in both parties want to work on this. Maybe people who have taken strong positions against immigration reform, when they actually think about the issues in a human way, are going to be taking a new look."
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