Immigration Hardliner Bob Goodlatte Gets a Bigger Role on the Divisive Issue

Rep. Robert Goodlatte, R-VA, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee

Rep. Robert Goodlatte, R-VA, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee  (2012 Getty Images)

When it comes to immigration, Rep. Bob Goodlatte is firmly entrenched in the hard-line faction of the Republican Party.

Indeed, the Virginia congressman got an unusual “A+” from the immigration-control advocacy group, NumbersUSA, for his uncompromising strict views on how to handle illegal immigration.

Goodlatte is the newly named chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which oversees immigration matters that pass through the U.S. House of Representatives. Goodlatte (pronounced: Goodlot) will be succeeding his fellow Republican Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, whose preference for strict immigration policies made him a hero to enforcement proponents and a villain to others.

After his appointment, Goodlatte wrote on his website: “I will continue working closely with my colleagues in Congress to pass much-needed reforms to grant local and state agencies authority to enforce the law and crack down on illegal immigration.”

Goodlatte, 60, rejects efforts to grant undocumented immigrants a path to legalization, viewing those efforts as “amnesty,” a reward for law-breakers.

In the summer, he took to his website to denounce an Obama administration initiative, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), that would give a two-year reprieve from deportation to undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as minors. 

He is a fervent supporter of Arizona’s controversial anti-immigration law, SB 1070, which among other things requires local police to check the immigration status of people they stop for another reason who they suspect might be in the country illegally. He shares the view of many conservatives that states should be able to enforce immigration.

Goodlatte also opposes the diversity lottery, which rewards about 55,000 randomly picked winners from around the world with green cards, as long as they pass certain eligibility criteria. 

He also supports immigration enforcement partnership programs between federal and local authorities, such as Secure Communities and 287G, and stricter efforts to control the border. He also wants to end automatic birthright U.S. citizenship for children of undocumented immigrants who are born in the United States.

Immigration hawks are lauding the appointment of Goodlatte to helm the committee.

“Goodlatte is an immigration policy veteran who thinks immigration should serve some articulable national need,” said Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform in Washington D.C. “He's fair minded, respects the rule of law, and has a sincere interest in the integrity of the process. I can't think of anyone better to replace Lamar Smith, if anyone could.”

But advocates of more lenient immigration policies see his appointment as a sign that the House’s Republican majority is not genuinely interested in softening its stance on immigration and working with Democrats to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill.

Many in Congress’s Republican leadership have called on their party to moderate its tone and views on immigration in order to repair their image among Latinos.

“If the GOP wants to get right with Latinos passing immigration reform that puts 11 million immigrants on the road to citizenship, it's difficult to imagine Goodlatte and the Judiciary Committee playing a helpful role,” said Frank Sharry, head of America’s Voice, a Washington D.C. group that favors more lenient immigration laws. “He and colleagues such as Lamar Smith and Steve King [R-Iowa] are a big part of the reason the GOP is in the hole they are in.”

“Will Republicans ever learn?"

Republicans presidential candidates took a particularly hard line on immigration during the primaries last year and earlier this year, alienating many Latino voters, according to polls.

GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney took a markedly strict approach to immigration, emerging as the most hawkish of all his party’s contenders for the nomination during the primaries.

Romney said he believed in policies that would prompt self-deportation by making life so cumbersome for undocumented immigrants that they would just leave.

Romney also opposes the DREAM Act, which would give undocumented immigrants brought as children a chance to legalize their status if they meet a strict set of criteria. Many DREAM Act supporters – which include most Latinos, according to polls, say that such immigrants deserve a break because the United States is the only country many of them really know as home, and that they should not be punished for the decisions and actions of the parents.

The United States is home to an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants, most of them Latinos. President Obama, criticized by many Latino and immigration advocacy groups for not doing enough to push an immigration reform bill in his first term, vowed to bring a measure to Congress in his second term.

Obama blamed Republicans for thwarting efforts to reform immigration in a way that would both tighten enforcement and provide undocumented immigrants who meet certain criteria a pathway to legalization.

Though Latinos and immigration advocacy groups criticized Obama for the record number of deportations that have occurred during his presidency, they took more exception to the hard rhetoric on immigration by Republicans.

Goodlatte's state, Virginia, has more than 200,000 undocumented immigrants. The town of Herndon, Va. became the first to enter into a controversial federal program, 287G, that deputized local police to enforce immigration laws.

After the Nov. 6 election, both Democrats and Republicans pledged to work toward comprehensive immigration reform in 2013, with Republicans such as House Speaker John Boehner, a longtime proponent for strict immigration enforcement, recently softening his tone.

But Democrats and Republicans were again at loggerheads this week as a GOP-backed immigration bill, the STEM Jobs Act, passed the House along party lines, with Republicans largely supporting it and Democrats largely opposing it. 

In the Senate, Democrats blocked the bill, which would have eliminated the diversity lottery and redirect those 55,000 slots to foreign students who receive advanced degrees from U.S. universities in math, science, engineering and technology.

Goodlatte, a former lawyer, represents Sixth District in Virginia, which is described on his site as one of the leading turkey and poultry producing districts in the nation.

“It remains to be seen exactly what kind of a chair Congressman Goodlatte will be,” said Ali Noorani, of the National Immigration Forum, a Washington D.C.-based group that favors relaxing immigration laws.

“But, we do know Speaker Boehner and others have expressed a determination to, as the Speaker put it. . .find the common ground to take care of this issue once and for all.”

“All to say, the prospects for immigration reform lie in the hands of Speaker Boehner and he realizes we need a solution.”

Elizabeth Llorente is Senior Reporter for FoxNews.com, and can be reached at Elizabeth.Llorente@Foxnews.com. Follow her on Twitter @Liz_Llorente.