President Barack Obama in the White House East Room after signing an executive order for a Hispanic educational excellence initiative on Oct. 19.
President Barack Obama in the White House East Room after signing an executive order for a Hispanic educational excellence initiative on Oct. 19. Susan Walsh/AP
Amid the cheering this week over President Obama's string of legislative victories, little fanfare accompanied his meeting Tuesday with Latino lawmakers to contemplate his one recent defeat — the failure of the DREAM Act, all but closing the window for Democratic-led immigration overhaul for the next two years.
In an Oval Office meeting, Obama told five members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus that he "will not give up on the DREAM Act" or his 2008 campaign promise to deliver "comprehensive immigration reform," according to a White House statement.
What's next? Defense.
The incoming Republican House leadership is virtually certain to block any further measures such as the DREAM Act that would provide a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants.
In response, the president and Hispanic caucus members are expected to shift strategies to block passage of any GOP legislation that might punitively target illegal immigrants.
Last week, Senate Republicans blocked passage of the DREAM Act, which would establish a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants younger than 36 who arrived in the United States as children, have lived here for five years or more, and are attending college or serving in the military. More than 800,000 of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the nation could have been eligible.
In the next Congress, Hispanic lawmakers and Latino advocacy groups will be braced for a Republican attempt to end automatic citizenship for children born in the U.S. to illegal immigrants, a right granted under the 14th Amendment.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) is a leading opponent of "birthright" citizenship and will have the power to bring such a measure to the fore, as incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Smith has publicly said stricter immigration enforcement will be a priority of his, from securing U.S. borders to cracking down on human smuggling.
Smith's acolyte likely will be Rep. Steve King (R-IA), the next chairman of the House subcommittee on immigration. King plans to introduce a bill that would alter the 14th Amendment to deny citizenship to American-born children of undocumented parents.
He's also expressed a willingness to seek a constitutional amendment, a prohibitive task requiring ratification by two-thirds of Congress and three quarters of the state legislatures.
A constitutional amendment is unlikely (there have been 27 in U.S. history; the latest occurred in 1992), but the approach has gained currency with many conservative GOP lawmakers in both the House and Senate.
Latino groups warn that lawmakers who target illegal immigrants would expose themselves to political risk made much greater with the recent release of Census data showing the effects of the Hispanic population boom on congressional reapportionment.
While several of the states set to gain congressional seats are red, such as Texas and Arizona, their population growth is owed largely to Latinos, who have tended to vote increasingly for Democrats as GOP candidates have hardened against immigration reform that would include paths to citizenship.
"You have some of the most extreme members of the House who are going to be the calling card of the Republican Party to Latinos when they need to rebuild their relationships with Latinos," Clarissa Martinez, director of immigration for National Council of La Raza, a Latino civil rights group.
"My hope here is that now that you have congressional responsibility shared, with the Democrats in Senate and Republicans in the House, they will share the credit for finding solutions and solving the problems. That may be an opportunity."