Side by side, leading Democratic and Republican senators pledged Monday to propel far-reaching immigration legislation through the Senate by summer providing a possible path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million people in the U.S. illegally.
The senators acknowledged pitfalls that have doomed such efforts in the past, but they suggested that November’s elections — with Hispanics voting heavily for President Barack Obama and other Democrats — could make this time different.
Passage of the emotionally charged legislation by the Democratic-controlled Senate is far from assured, and a taller hurdle could come later in the House, which is dominated by conservative Republicans who’ve shown little interest in immigration overhaul. Obama will lay out his own proposals Tuesday, most of which mirror the Senate plans.
Besides the citizenship provision, including new qualifications, the Senate measure would increase border security, allow more temporary workers to stay and crack down on employers who would hire illegal immigrants. The plans are short on detail, and all the senators conceded that tedious and politically treacherous negotiations lie ahead.
But with a re-elected Obama pledging his commitment, the lawmakers argued that six years after the last sustained congressional effort at an immigration overhaul came up short in the Senate, chances for approval this year are much better.
“Other bipartisan groups of senators have stood in the same spot before, trumpeting similar proposals,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. “But we believe this will be the year Congress finally gets it done. The politics on this issue have been turned upside down,” Schumer said, arguing that polls show more support than ever for immigration changes and political risk in opposing it.
“Elections. Elections,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. “The Republican Party is losing the support of our Hispanic citizens. And we realize that there are many issues on which we think we are in agreement with our Hispanic citizens, but this is a pre-eminent issue with those citizens.”
Obama got 71 percent of the Latino vote in November compared to 27 percent for Republican Mitt Romney.
The president will endorse the Senate process today, administration officials said. He will outline a similar vision for overhauling the nation’s immigration laws, drawing on the immigration “blueprint” he first released in 2011.
The blueprint focuses on four key areas: a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., improved border security, an overhaul of the legal immigration system and making it easier for businesses to verify the legal status of workers.