Sandra Emerson and Monica Rodriguez, Staff Writers
Posted: 01/01/2011 07:06:22 AM PST

The approach to addressing illegal immigration is expected to shift as Republicans take control of the House of Representatives in the new year.

In a matter of weeks, Congress will switch from working on legislation geared toward legalization to stricter enforcement of immigration laws.

Rep. David Dreier, R-San Dimas, will feel more confident in re-introducing his legislation to create a counterfeit-proof Social Security card and a strong employment eligibility verification system, said his press secretary, Jo Maney, in an e-mailed statement.

“He continues to believe any immigration reform must be preceded by stronger control of our border and better workplace enforcement,” Maney said.

Possibly on the immigration to-do list is a requirement for employers to use E-Verify when hiring employees.

E-Verify is an Internet-based system that allows an employer to determine if the employee is legally able to work in the country.

Raymond Herrera, founder and president of Claremont-based We The People California’s Crusader, said he and fellow activists have been encouraging lawmakers on several immigration statues, including the use of E-Verify.

“We’re working to get it mandated, not only just for employers but unions, staging areas and mandated where cities can then enforce their employers to have E-Verify powers,” he said.

Herrera said his group is also working with Arizona Sen. Russell Pearce.

Pearce has announced plans to introduce legislation to test interpretations of the 14th Amendment’s granting citizenship to U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants.

Jose Calderon, an immigrant rights advocate and sociology professor at Pitzer College in Claremont, said taking on the 14th Amendment will not be a simple endeavor.

It would require a long process to essentially change the U.S. Constitution, he said.

Some Republican strategists have warned that it’s not in the party’s interest to take a hard-line approach to immigration matters and that it can lead to a backlash, Calderon said.

California experienced such a backlash, he said, after the 1994 passage of Proposition 187, an initiative supported by many Republicans, called for denying education and other services to the children of illegal immigrants.

The initiative was approved by voters in 1994 but found unconstitutional by a federal court. In 1999 then-Gov. Gray Davis halted court appeals.

Some believe that as California’s Latino population grew and began to participate in the electoral process, the Republican party had a harder time succeeding in statewide elections.

Denying citizenship to children of undocumented immigrants is a form of nativism, Calderon said.

“What’s scary is how far nativism and using the sincere suffering of hard-working people has gone,” he said.

Many people are hurting due to the economic downturn and without having accurate information those same people could turn against undocumented immigrants and people of color, he said.

That “can result in a real negative populist movement,” Calderon said.

“The rhetoric is there’s an invasion taking place and immigrants are taking jobs and the services of local communities,” Calderon said.

The opportunity exists to form coalitions with “hard-working people and people of different backgrounds” to build a unified group that can work with political leaders to deal with issues such as jobs, unemployment and the economy – all matters that are affecting many nations around the world, Calderon said.

Passage of the DREAM Act in the House served as the Democrats’ final attempt at immigration legislation before relinquishing control to Republicans.

The DREAM Act would have legalized thousands of illegal immigrants up to the age of 30 after completion of a college degree or two years in the military.

The bill passed the House, but failed in the Senate last month.

Herrera said he does not believe the DREAM Act has a chance in the new Congress.

The DREAM Act “is not going to go,” he said. “It wouldn’t even if it was a Democratically held House this coming year. The people have spoken. The will of the people has been expressed. Deny the voice of the people and you’ve denied democracy in America.”

Rep. Joe Baca, D-San Bernardino, plans to continue to push for comprehensive immigration reform as a workable solution to fix the broken immigration system, he said in an e-mailed statement.

“Comprehensive reform means strengthened border security, tougher sanctions for employers who willingly violate immigration laws and a tough but fair pathway to citizenship for immigrants who want to contribute,” he said.

Similarly to Dreier, Baca has plans to re-introduce legislation.

The People Resolved to Obtain an Understanding of Democracy (PROUD) Act, was originally introduced in June 2009.

The act “provides a streamlined path to citizenship for exemplary young students who were brought to the U.S. at an early age,” Baca said. “Part of comprehensive immigration reform, the PROUD Act changes existing policies that unfairly punish the innocent young people who came as children to the U.S. by no choice of their own.”

Baca said he realizes it will be difficult to pass comprehensive immigration reform once Republicans take control of the House, but he will not give up.

“As President (Barack) Obama has stated, we need a bipartisan approach to immigration reform moving forward,” he said. “Immigration cannot simply be used as a political wedge issue.”

Rep. Gary Miller, R-Brea, said there will be three issues the new Congress will focus on within the first few months of the new year: birthright citizenship, border security and E-Verify.

“We all have priorities. I think the most pressing issue today is putting the American people back to work,” Miller said. “You have a lot of very good people, talented people, out of work and willing to take a job if it’s offered to them.

“You can’t create jobs in government. That just spends taxpayer money, but you can create an environment where businesses create jobs and give opportunity to the American people.”

Miller said he still expects some opposition from Democrats.

“They’ll consider us mean and cruel and heartless and cold-blooded and uncaring and that’s not the case at all,” he said. “We are the most generous nation in the world as it applies to immigration and we should be. We’re a blessed people, but there’s a system people should follow.”

The Senate will still have a Democratic majority, but Miller said Republicans will make sure they realize it’s about getting Americans back to work.

“We’re going to try to put them in a position to where they have to address it,” he said.

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