• By Kathleen Hennessey, Washington Bureau

After years of courting Latino voters with a softer tone on immigration, Republican leaders in Congress have all but abandoned that posture, risking what remains of GOP support among the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population.

The latest example is the near-unanimous opposition by Senate Republicans to the Dream Act, a measure that provides a way for some illegal immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children to become citizens.

The bill once was seen as a bipartisan initiative that offered the GOP a bridge to Latino voters. But in a Senate debate last week, Republicans branded the measure as "amnesty," denouncing it as ripe for abuse.

The party's once solicitous outreach to Latino voters has been all but drowned out by a powerful grass-roots movement incensed over illegal immigration. GOP lawmakers are increasingly fearful of incurring the movement's wrath.

Republicans logged victories in last month's midterm election, relying on support from their core voters and disaffected independents. But the GOP approach to immigration may come back to haunt the party..