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After watching their main legislative priority be defeated in the waning days of the 111th Congress, immigration-reform advocates are resetting their lobbying goals. And they expect the incoming House GOP majority to be less receptive than its Democratic predecessor.
“It will be a difficult political climate,” said Andrea Zuniga DiBitetto, who works on immigration issues at the AFL-CIO. “With a Republican House, defense will play a large role.”
Late in this month’s lame-duck session, Senate Democrats failed to rally enough votes to cut off debate on the DREAM Act, a proposal that would allow undocumented young adults to rectify their immigration status by completing college or enlisting in the military. The bill passed the House with bipartisan support but failed a Dec. 18 Senate cloture vote that drew five Democratic defections in a 55-41 tally.
The bill’s demise also means that the immigration reform community will shelve the proposal for now and return to lobbying full time on a comprehensive rewrite of the nation’s immigration laws, according to the Immigration Policy Center’s Wendy Sefsaf.
“We’ll have to see — we’re prepared to play defense, we’re prepared to work with [Republicans] to prepare solutions that might work, that can actually make the Republicans look better in eyes of Latinos and Hispanics,” Sefsaf said. “We’re going to sit back and wait and see if they actually propose to fix things.”
Advocacy organizations will also focus their attention in 2011 on state legislatures, which are expected to take up less-ambitious immigration proposals such as tuition assistance for undocumented residents. And the immigration-reform community is preparing to fight a possible repeal of the 14th amendment, which grants citizenship to children born on U.S. soil.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) threw his support behind a possible repeal of birthright citizenship last summer, calling the constitutional provision a “mistake” on Fox News.
“All groups are turning to the states and saying, ‘Now, how can we help you come up with a rational policy that doesn’t step on the toes of the federal government?’” Sefsaf said. “The states may end up taking the lead if the Republicans in the House decide to just make a mockery of things.”
As the 112th Congress approaches, immigration-reform groups are also left wondering how long of a leash Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio) will give Reps. Lamar Smith (Texas) and Steve King (Iowa), two prominent members of the Judiciary Committee who are outspoken critics of liberalized immigration laws.