WASHINGTON — The Republican majority in the US House of Representatives, which takes office on Wednesday, is preparing to introduce measures that would dramatically tighten US immigration policy.
The new legislative agenda comes after President Barack Obama’s Democrats lost control of the lower chamber of the US Congress in November elections.
However the hard-line measures, which range from an increase in law enforcement personnel on the US-Mexico border to denying citizenship to children born to illegal immigrants, are likely to face opposition in the Senate, where Democrats maintain a slim majority.
One of the most powerful advocates for tougher immigration laws is Peter King, a Republican representative from New York and the incoming chairman of the influential House Committee on Homeland Security.
Obama “does not have the sense of urgency” when it comes to immigration, King told Fox News on Monday, “and he could have done a much better job.”
Obama has pushed for a broad immigration overhaul since taking office two years ago but has prioritized other issues such as health care reform.
The administration has however deported record numbers of illegal immigrants — more than 392,000 in the period between October 2009 and September 2010, according to government figures.
Some 11 million immigrants, mostly from Latin America, are believed to be living in the United States without proper documents.
King wants the government to continue funding the 1,200 National Guards that Obama ordered to the border with Mexico in July 2010 to help crack down on smuggling and drug trafficking.
The troops, which support federal agents, were deployed to provide a one-year bridge for the US Customs and Border Patrol to hire and train about 1,000 more agents, officials said at the time.
King also wants to revive an expensive border surveillance system, a “virtual fence” of radars and ground sensors that cost more than a billion dollars but was plagued by so many errors that it was scrapped in 2009.
King admitted that shutting the system down “was a legitimate call” by the Obama administration.
“But they have done nothing — nothing in the year since then. This is a program which is absolutely essential. And yet, once there were problems with it, they put it aside and have done nothing whatsoever,” King told Fox.
Separately, King’s colleague Lamar Smith from Texas, the new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said that he wants to revive debate on the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, a measure approved in 1868 that guarantees US citizenship to anyone born on US soil.
Conservative Republicans have argued that the measure encourages illegal aliens to have children in the United States in a bid to thwart deportation.
The last overhaul of US immigration law was in 1985, when Republican Ronald Reagan was president.
While sweeping changes to federal immigration law may be unlikely to pass due to the spilt Congress, Republican legislatures in at least six states are set to propose measures similar to a controversial Arizona law making it a crime to be in the state without proper immigration papers.
A federal judge has put most of the Arizona law on hold pending an Obama administration legal challenge — but that has not stopped the states from preparing the proposals, including measures ordering state workers to report illegal immigrants, according to immigration advocates.