Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) did not win the immigration subcommittee chairmanship he had been pushing for but House Speaker-designate Newt Gingrich gave him a consolation prize Friday: the leadership of a special congressional task force on immigration reform.
Even before California’s Proposition 187 stirred a national debate on the issue, Gallegly had emerged as a key player among Republicans in the effort to curb illegal immigration, introducing a series of controversial, hard-line measures. With the GOP now in the majority and immigration on the front burner, Gallegly said he was ready finally to implement change in the country’s laws.
“For probably the first time since I’ve been in Washington, we have an opportunity to enact real immigration reform,” Gallegly said in a statement. “The resounding approval of Prop. 187 in California and the increased focus on this issue . . . sends a clear message that America wants us to do something about the people who come here illegally.”
The task force, whose membership is still uncertain, will work with the governors of border states and other officials in drafting legislation for congressional consideration.
Gallegly became involved in the immigration issue in 1990 after officials in Agoura Hills complained to him about day laborers at a small shopping center.
At the time, Gallegly’s district was split between eastern Ventura County and parts of the San Fernando Valley. Today his 23rd District encompasses all of Ventura County, except for most of Thousand Oaks.
In 1991, he introduced a package of bills intended to crack down on illegal immigration, including a controversial proposal that would amend the Constitution to deny citizenship to children born in the United States to illegal residents.
Gallegly, who is entering his fifth term, would not say which of his immigration reform proposals introduced last session--including a plan for tamper-proof identification cards for resident aliens--would re-emerge in 1995.
The other members of the task force and the group’s exact scope will be hashed out early next month in meetings among Gallegly, Gingrich and Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the immigration subcommittee.
That panel, the launching point for immigration legislation, plans dozens of hearings on the issue during the coming year, with at least one planned for California in the next few months. Smith said he wants to proceed in a thorough fashion and build bipartisan support for any proposals, putting off voting until 1995.
Smith said California, which has the bulk of the country’s illegal residents, will have a major voice in the debate. In addition to Gallegly’s presence on the task force, two other Californians sit with Gallegly on the immigration subcommittee--Rep. Carlos Moorhead (R-Glendale) and Rep. Sonny Bono (R-La Quinta).
As attorneys continue to battle over the legality of Proposition 187, which cuts off most government services to illegal immigrants, some anxious local immigrant rights activists are bracing for the proposals from Washington.
“We’re concerned about any new policies on immigration that are going to isolate U.S. citizens of Mexican descent as second-class citizens,” said Armando Garcia, a spokesman for the Ventura County Coalition on Immigrant Rights. “We’re going to be busy documenting abuses.”