WASHINGTON Latino voters’ decisive tilt toward Democrats in the presidential election has given new life to proposals that would clear a path to legal status for the estimated 11 million people in the U.S. unlawfully.
For the first time in five years, some Republicans are calling on their party to change its tone and embrace ways to ease the law to keep families together while intensifying efforts to tighten the borders.
“For too long, both parties have used immigration as a political wedge issue,” Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., said in an interview. “But the time has come to find a bipartisan solution.”
President Barack Obama said he is “already seeing signs” that some Republicans are changing their positions, and his staff is in discussions with members of Congress on how to get a bill introduced “very soon” after his January inauguration. White House officials are unlikely to settle for proposals that take narrow slices of the issue because they feel they won’t get more than one chance to push through an immigration bill in the next Congress.
“We need to seize the moment,” Obama said at a news conference last week.
Some people inside and outside the GOP say it needs to seize the moment too.
Republicans “are in a free fall, and the only parachute they have is the immigration reform parachute, and they should pull that rip cord,” said Angela Kelley, an immigration policy expert at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank based in Washington, D.C.
“A lot are tugging at it,” she said.
Sens. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., spoke by phone the Saturday after the election about how to write a bill that would have a chance to pass next year.
“Taking people at their word, like Lindsey and Chuck, if they really want to end illegality, then things are possible,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. “We will fairly and compassionately wrestle with what to do with people who are here illegally.”
Their plan would create a new, tamper-proof biometric Social Security card, enact stiff fines and prison sentences for employers who repeatedly hire illegal immigrants and grant automatic green cards to foreigners who graduate from U.S. universities with advanced degrees in high-tech fields.