In some ways, the Virginia congressman is well-positioned for a turn toward the center. Despite a long legislative history of backing bills aimed at upping enforcement and reducing immigration, both legal and illegal, he is among the more knowledgeable members of Congress when it comes to immigration law. He worked as an immigration lawyer for 13 years before his 1993 congressional victory in Virginia's 6th district, which includes Roanoke and borders West Virginia.
Goodlatte's work in immigration law speaks to his potential range on the issue: While he opposed a 1986 immigration reform law that legalized nearly three million people, he also says he handled a few of those legalization cases in his law practice.
"I did not think it was a good idea, because I did not believe it was going to be properly enforced," he said about the 1986 law. "And it sent the wrong message to the people who were trying to come here legally."
When it comes to the big question -- whether he will support an immigration bill that includes a path to citizenship for the undocumented -- Goodlatte won't commit one way or another. But he has said several times that some sort of legal status, but not citizenship, could be the median between citizenship and deportation. Speaking with ABC/Univision, he stressed that a legal status could eventually lead to citizenship for some immigrants, through marriage or an employment-based visa.
"There's lots of different ways that people who come here lawfully find to allow themselves to stay in the United States," he said. A special path to citizenship, Goodlatte said, "would be a concern to a lot of people."
If the chairman comes out against a bill with a path to citizenship, a shortly lived truce with immigration groups might come to an end.
"Talk is talk," said Tramonte of America's Voice. "The real test in that will be in the action, in whatever vote the conference takes. It's not enough to just stop calling immigrants criminals. They actually have to put forward a policy that resolves the issue."