Republican senators are inching toward working on a broad immigration overhaul with their Democratic colleagues, a sign that the window of opportunity to address the issue could again be cracking open, at least in the Senate.
The opening comes as President Barack Obama has been making increasingly forceful statements about his desire for Congress to pass a sweeping immigration bill.
“My expectation is that we get a bill introduced and we begin the process in Congress very soon after my inauguration,” Obama said at his press conference Wednesday.
“Before the election ... I predicted that the Latino vote was going to be strong, and that that would cause some reflection on the part of Republicans about their position on immigration reform,” the president said. “I think we’re starting to see that already. We need to seize the moment.”
Almost three-quarters of Hispanic voters supported Obama’s re-election, with a higher percentage backing the president in some swing states such as Colorado. Republicans in Congress have subsequently started talking about the need for an immigration overhaul.
“I think most of them are convinced,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who led the last major congressional push to overhaul immigration, which collapsed in 2007. “We’ve got to get the issue resolved.”
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, also said Wednesday that he thinks the time is right to bring up immigration again.
“I’ve always been empathetic toward them solving this problem,” Hatch said.
Democrats, delighted by the Republican change in tone, are vowing to make an aggressive push on the issue, which has traditionally been one of the most intractable in Congress.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said he would revive his effort to craft a proposal to give legal status to young people brought to the United States illegally as children and who know no other home. Democrats have backed the DREAM Act (HR 1842, S 952) to give such young people a direct path to citizenship, but Rubio’s version would not go that far, in order to pick up Republican support.
And Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said this week that she could support a version of the DREAM Act, even if it included a path to citizenship.
“I believe that we should start with the DREAM Act bill,” Collins said Tuesday. “Children who are brought here through no fault of their own clearly should be treated differently from an adult who sneaked in across the border.”