WASHINGTON (AP) - The end of the year means a turnover of House control from Democratic to Republican and, with it, Congress' approach to immigration.
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.
Legislation to test interpretations of the 14th Amendment as granting citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants will emerge early next session. That is likely to be followed by attempts to force employers to use a still-developing web system, dubbed E-Verify, to check that all of their employees are in the U.S. legally.
There could be proposed curbs on federal spending in cities that don't do enough to identify people who are in the country illegally and attempts to reduce the numbers of legal immigrants.
Democrats ended the year failing for a second time to win passage of the Dream Act, which would have given hundreds of thousands of young illegal immigrants a chance at legal status. House Republicans will try to fill the immigration reform vacuum left by Democrats with legislation designed to send illegal immigrants packing and deter others from trying to come to the U.S.
Democrats, who will still control the Senate, will be playing defense against harsh immigration enforcement measures, mindful of their need to keep on good footing with Hispanic voters. But a slimmer majority and an eye on 2012 may prevent Senate Democrats from bringing to the floor any sweeping immigration bill, or even a limited one that hints at providing legal status to people in the country illegally.
President Barack Obama could be a wild card.
He'll have at his disposal his veto power should a bill denying citizenship to children of illegal immigrants make it to his desk. But Obama also has made cracking down on employers a key part of his administration's immigration enforcement tactics.