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Immigration politics: What to expect next

A stretch of border fence through the desert, Imperial Sand Dunes, California.
A stretch of border fence through the desert, Imperial Sand Dunes, California.
Photo by Eric White/Flickr (Creative Commons)

As the 111th U.S. Congress heads out the door without an immigration overhaul to its credit and a new Republican-led House takes over in January, what happens now?

In recent days, a series of requiems have emerged for the broad reforms that were promised by the Obama administration, as have predictions of two years of enforcement-based immigration measures.

Here are a few selections:

The Washington Post published an essay by University of Southern California journalism and public policy professor Roberto Suro, former director of the Pew Hispanic Center, titled "A lost decade for immigration reform." From the piece:

Like so much else about the past decade, things didn't go well. Immigration policy got kicked around a fair bit, but next to nothing got accomplished. Old laws and bureaucracies became increasingly dysfunctional. The public grew anxious. The debates turned repetitive, divisive and sterile.

An Associated Press analysis predicted a much harder line on immigration over the next two years, including efforts to test interpretations of the 14th Amendment, which grants citizenship to everyone born in the United States:
In a matter of weeks, Congress will go from trying to help young, illegal immigrants become legal to debating whether children born to parents who are in the country illegally should continue to enjoy automatic U.S. citizenship.

Such a hardened approach - and the rhetoric certain to accompany it - should resonate with the GOP faithful who helped swing the House in Republicans' favor. But it also could further hurt the GOP in its endeavor to grab a large enough share of the growing Latino vote to win the White House and the Senate majority in 2012.

A Los Angeles Times story made a similar prediction, citing some of the goals of soon-to-be house Homeland Security Committee chair Peter T. King, a New York Republican, and Lamar Smith, the Texas Republican who is to chair the House Judiciary committee:

Among other initiatives, King wants to see the Homeland Security Department expand a program that enlists the help of local police departments in arresting suspected illegal immigrants.

Texas Republican Lamar Smith, who will have oversight over deportations and arrests when he takes the gavel as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, was an author of 1996 legislation increasing penalties against illegal immigrants.

In a press conference last week, President Obama called the failure of the Dream Act his "biggest disappointment" and said he wasn't ready to give up on the measure. The proposed legislation would have granted conditional legal status to undocumented youths who attended college or joined the military. It cleared the House earlier this month, but fell five votes short of cloture during a Senate procedural vote two weekends ago. In the 112th Congress, a bill of this nature having any success is unlikely. From The Washington Post:
Congressional Republicans said in interviews Thursday that their concerns about the measure remain strong, and both House and Senate GOP leaders said they would fight any attempt to legalize any of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country before the administration secured the nation's southern border with Mexico.

"It is pointless to talk about any new immigration bills that grant amnesty until we secure the border, since such bills will only encourage more illegal immigration," incoming House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) said in a statement.