Huffpost Politics
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Frank Sharry Headshot

Elton Gallegly's (R-CA) Immigration Strategy: Destroy California's Economy and the GOP's Future with Latinos

Posted: Updated:

Rep. Elton Gallegly is the most important California Member of Congress dealing with immigration that you’ve never heard of. But if his hard-line views become law, he could ruin the state’s economy – and his party’s prospects with Latino voters.

Gallegly is the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration. He works in concert with Representatives Lamar Smith and Steve King on a strategy they call “attrition through enforcement.” That’s code for mass deportation.

Yes, Gallegly wants to force a mass exodus of undocumented immigrants from the United States -- said as much at his first hearing:

"Good morning," Gallegly begins. "I have long said that the way to solve the problem of illegal immigration is fairly simple.

"First, we must enforce our laws and secure the border. Second, we must remove the magnets that encourage illegal immigration. And finally, we must remove the benefits that make it easier for them to stay."

In other words, if it’s not easy for “them” to stay, they leave.

A recent profile of Gallegly in the Daily Beast provided some background on just how hard-core his anti-immigrant views are:

If Gallegly is seen as less hawkish on immigration than King, it may be a matter of style, not substance. Gallegly tends to keep a lower profile and is rarely found on the cable-news circuit, but his legislative record is as hard-line as they come. He has taken up the cause of denying citizenship to children born in this country to illegal immigrants, introducing so-called birthright-citizenship legislation two decades ago. Gallegly also has supported measures that would make English the official language and allow states to deny public education to the kids of illegal immigrants. In 2004, he voted for a bill that would cut off federal funding for hospitals that don’t report the immigration status of certain patients.

He is “as hard-line as they come.” And, if Gallegly’s plans come to fruition, it has the potential for economic disaster.

Gallegly has held a series of hearings on immigration issues for the past several months. At one hearing, he tried to pit Latinos against African Americans. His hometown paper, the Ventura County Star, reported on March 1, 2011 “Immigration hearing turns into racial battle”:

A congressional hearing led by Rep. Elton Gallegly quickly turned partisan and combative on Tuesday, with Democrats accusing Republicans of trying to drive a wedge between African-Americans and Latinos over illegal immigration.

Some lawmakers are trying "to pit black against brown" by essentially arguing that illegal immigration is the reason minority communities still struggle nearly 50 years after Martin Luther King Jr. led a landmark civil rights march on Washington, said Rep. John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat who was one of the founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Several weeks later, Gallegly convened a hearing designed to create tension between native-born citizens and naturalized citizens. Rep. Xavier Becerra (CA-31) blasted Gallegly’s hearing as “scapegoating on steroids”:

Blaming others, in this case legal immigrants, for your own failings doesn't produce a single job. It’s also the oldest trick in the book, and the American people aren’t buying it.

After 10 weeks you would think that the House Republicans would have produced a plan to create jobs in America. Instead, this hearing amounts to scapegoating on steroids, pitting Americans of one background against Americans of another. It’s a plan that creates zero jobs, but a lot of excuses.”

While there's been a renewed interest among Senators like David Vitter to change the meaning of the 14th Amendment, that's old hat for Gallegly. He's been leading that charge for two decades:

Gallegly has been trying to strip birthright citizenship from the children of illegal immigrants since 1991, when he introduced his first bill to do so. His proposals to change the 14th Amendment have failed repeatedly for 20 years. But now, as changing the birthright citizenship laws becomes increasingly mainstream, it looks as if Gallegly may finally have a chance.

That's not the only issue where Gallegly targets children. He authored one of the most egregious anti-immigration bills aimed at children back in 1996:

As strong as his voting record is in favor of the positions of the immigration restrictionist advocacy community, Representative Gallegly is best known for an amendment that he authored in the mid-1990s that would have denied undocumented alien children the right to attend pubilc elementary and secondary schools.  The amendment, which was offered to the bill that eventually was enacted into law as the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IRRIRA), would have given states the option to deny public education to illegal aliens.  The House agreed to the amendment on March 20, 1996, by a vote of 257-163.  However, the amendment was dropped in the ensuing conference between the House and the Senate.

This legislation was Gallegly’s attempt to create a national version of California’s notoriously anti-immigrant Proposition 187, which passed in 1994. While Prop. 187 helped Pete Wilson win re-election that year, it ending up mobilizing Latino voters, turning what was a purple state into a solid blue state ever since.  Fortunately, Gallegly’s 1996 anti-kids bill failed after police organizations and chiefs around the country rose up in opposition to a measure that would have forced hundreds of thousands public school students onto the streets.

Gallegly’s home state of California would bear the brunt of his legislative efforts to force “attrition through enforcement.” California’s economy, from Silicon Valley to the Central Valley and much of the rest of the state, relies on the labor of immigrants. And, it’s no secret that California’s economy is already in a precarious state.  A report from the Immigration Policy Center documented the positive economic effect immigrants have on the state:

A 2008 study by the California Immigrant Policy Center concludes that immigrants in California pay roughly $30 billion in federal taxes, $5.2 billion in state income taxes, and $4.6 billion in sales taxes each year. In California, “the average immigrant-headed household contributes a net $2,679 annually to Social Security, which is $539 more than the average US-born household. Additionally, “immigrants are among California’s most productive entrepreneurs and have created jobs for tens of thousands of Californians. By 2000, immigrant owners of Silicon Valley companies had created 72,829 jobs and generated more than $19.5 billion in sales.”

A report from the Congressional Budget Office, The Role of Immigrants in the U.S. Labor Market: An Update, noted the major role of immigrants in California:

The foreign-born labor force is disproportionately located in certain states, and in those states, its members make up a substantial share of the total labor force. In 2009, 6 million of the 24 million foreign-born members of the labor force resided in California alone, and another 9 million lived in just five additional states—New York, Florida, Texas, New Jersey, and Illinois. A third of the labor force in California was foreign born, as was over a fifth of the labor force in the other five states. By comparison, in the remaining 44 states, the foreign born made up less than 10 percent of the labor force.

This is not just bad for the economy, this is bad politics. Immigration is a top-tier political issue for Latinos. And in California, Latinos are a growing political force (ask Meg Whitman or Carly Fiorina).

The new Census figures for California show the dominant and growing role Latino voters are playing in politics in the Golden State.  National Journal summarized the findings:

The state’s Hispanic population grew by more than a quarter in the last decade, and Latinos now make up 38 percent of the state, which nearly surpasses non-Hispanic whites, who make up 40 percent of the population. Further, 51 percent of Californians younger than 18 are Latino. The political and policy ramifications of the rapid demographic shift in the nation’s largest state are huge.

And the Washington Post’s Dan Balz noted:

The rapid expansion in California's Hispanic population has transformed the state's political balance, putting Republicans at a disadvantage in statewide elections.

The Ventura County Star reported on the growth of the Latino population in part of Gallegly’s own congressional district:

The Latino population continued to grow over the last decade, increasing from 33 percent of all residents in 2000 to 40 percent in 2010.

Despite the significant impact immigrants play in the California economy and politics, Gallegly is taking his marching orders from the extreme anti-immigrant wing of the GOP. He’s putting their politics ahead of the state’s economy.

And, in case all the hearings and rhetoric have been convincing, this pretty much defines his extreme views:

In a July 2009 op-ed for The Hill, Gallegly argued for the passage of his animal-crush bill, noting that such snuff films are somehow connected to illegal immigration and crime:

"[G]ang activity, illegal gambling, drug trafficking, illegal immigration and acts of human violence all go hand in hand with animal cruelty." (The piece had been posted on Gallegly's official congressional website, but it has since been taken down.)

In the op-ed, Gallegly echoed the conservative criticism that illegal immigrants bring with them a bigger world of crime, and he points out that an Arizona crime syndicate that "preyed on illegal immigrants, subjecting them to kidnappings, home invasions, and armed robberies" is also being accused of "raising roosters for illegal cockfighting matches." While linking illegal immigration and animal-crush videos, Gallegly also maintained that animal abusers tend to become serial killers.

Yes, that’s the guy who is now setting the immigration policy for the country  -- and California.

Cross-Posted at America's Voice and Daily Kos.