WASHINGTON — Democratic and Republican lawmakers report progress on a bipartisan push to reform U.S. immigration laws. An agreement on proposed legislation to fix America’s oft-lambasted immigration system could be announced later this week.
After years of failed and frustrated efforts at immigration reform, a bipartisan breakthrough could be close at hand.
Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, speaking on ABC’s This Week program, said, “I am cautiously optimistic. I see the right spirit. I see things that were once off the table for agreement and discussion being on the table.”
Menendez belongs to a group of Democratic and Republican senators that has been working to craft an immigration-reform package that could pass both houses of Congress. The lawmakers say the deal they envision would provide a means to give legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants while also strengthening U.S. border security.
Another member of the group, Republican Senator John McCain, also appeared on This Week. McCain said the ideas being discussed are not new, but the political landscape surrounding immigration reform has changed.
“It is not that much different from what we tried to do in 2007. What has changed, honestly, is that there is a new appreciation on both sides of the aisle - including, maybe more importantly, on the Republican side of the aisle - that we have to enact a comprehensive immigration reform bill," he said.
Republican opposition to immigration reform appears to have softened since last year’s presidential election, when more than two-thirds of Hispanic voters cast ballots for the Democratic Party's Barack Obama. Prominent Republicans have said their party will be hard-pressed to win national contests unless it can attract greater support from Hispanics and other minority groups.
But points of contention remain, including whether foreign citizens who entered the United States illegally or overstayed their visas can be eligible for eventual U.S. citizenship.
Senator Menendez says yes. “Absolutely. First of all, Americans support it in poll after poll. Secondly, Latino voters expect it. Third, Democrats want it. And fourth, Republicans need it," he said.
For now, many Republican lawmakers are non-committal on a possible path to citizenship for the undocumented. But Senator McCain says the status quo is unacceptable.
“We cannot go on forever with 11-million people living in this country in the shadows in an illegal status. We cannot forever have children who were brought here by their parents when they were small children to live in the shadows, as well. So I think the time is right [for immigration reform]," he said.
Tuesday, President Obama will attempt to rally public support for immigration reform with a speech in Las Vegas, Nevada.