Is the Immigration Reform Caucus still a threat to immigration reform?

Rep. Lou Barletta

With top-level officials in the Republican Party giving strong signals of an about-face on immigration reform, could the FAIR-backed Immigration Reform Caucus drag the party back toward the nativists?

Just days after an election in which the Latino vote played a pivotal role in handing President Obama a victory, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told the press that they will make immigration reform a priority, hoping to stop the hemorrhaging of Latino voters from the party. Among the conservative pundit class, Sean Hannity said that he’s “evolved” on immigration, now supporting a pathway to citizenship. Standing in the way of this paradigm shift however, are the hard-liners in the Immigration Reform Caucus, which stands ready to resist every attempt to pass pro-immigrant legislation in congress.

Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) is expected to take over chairmanship of the House Judiciary Committee in the new congress. Goodlatte has supported an end to birthright citizenship, English-only proposals, and building a fence along the Mexican border. Goodlatte would maintain the course set forth by fellow IRC member Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), the previous chair of the judiciary committee.

One of the central figures in IRC is Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA), is on the Advisory Board of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. He made a name for himself as the mayor who dragged Hazleton, PA into a lawsuit over its municipal anti-immigrant laws. Hazleton was defended in court by none other than Kris Kobach, counsel for the Immigration Reform Law Institute and Kansas Secretary of State.

Founded by congressman Tom Tancredo (R-CO) in 1999, IRC has carried the flame long after his departure, providing a home for hardliners like Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), Joe “You Lie” Wilson (R-SC), Todd Akin (R-MO), Virginia Foxx (R-NC), and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). But the group suffered a major setback this election. It’s current chair, Rep. Brian Bilbray, lost his bid for re-election in California. He finally conceded on November 16. His defeat should serve as a lesson to potential successors as IRC’s head: taking a leadership role of a nativist group will cost you.

On immigration reform, the question for the next congress will be: does congress continue to listen to FAIR and its allies in the IRC, or does it strike out a new path? Comprised of some of the right’s loudest attack dogs, moderates will almost certainly have to bark back.