WASHINGTON — Prospects for immigration reform are improving: A bipartisan group of senators — including Illinois’ Dick Durbin — will announce the broad outlines of a deal Monday as President Barack Obama on Tuesday kicks off his push for a comprehensive plan.
“We are committed to a comprehensive approach to finally, in this country, have an immigration law we can live with,” Durbin said on “Fox News Sunday.”
“We’ve still got a lot of hard work ahead, but I’m very pleased with the progress,” Sen. John McCain said on ABC’s “This Week.” An agreement could be announced this week, he said.
After the November election three Democrats — Durbin, Sen. Chuck Schumer and Sen. Bob Menendez — teamed up with three Republicans — McCain, Sen. Lindsey Graham and Sen. Marco Rubio — to try to fashion legislation that could pass the GOP-run House and the Democratic-controlled Senate. Sen. Michael Bennett (D-Col.) and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) are also part of the group.
McCain tried to forge immigration reform deals in 2005 and 2006, working with the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, only to have hardline activists block any potential of compromise. In 2007, Obama, then an Illinois senator, and McCain backed a measure that failed. Against that dismal history is a major reason for optimism this time around: The November election results, where Obama won in part because of the growing Hispanic vote.
“What’s changed is, honestly, is that there is a new, I think, 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,” McCain said.
Both Durbin and McCain said their package would include a path to citizenship for the more than 10 million immigrants in the U.S. illegally — one of the most contentious issues for Republicans.
“That has to be, also, part of it,” McCain said.
“Well, I’ll give you a little straight talk,” McCain said after being asked how Republicans could be sold on the citizenship plank of the plan. “Look at the last election. We are losing dramatically the Hispanic vote which we think should be ours for a variety of reasons. And we’ve got to understand that.
“Second of all, this — we can’t 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 born here — 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.”
Durbin said the proposal would have as a “high priority the unification of families” and DREAM Act language — to allow youths in the U.S. illegally through no fault of their own a change to legally stay. Durbin first proposed a DREAM Act more than a dozen years ago.
Since the election Rep. Paul Ryan — Mitt Romney’ running mate — has also been working on bipartisan deals. I reported last month how Ryan, Rubio and Rep. Luis Gutierrez — a House leader on immigration issues — had been meeting to determine where they could forge agreements.
“I think that there are Republicans and Democrats, many of us are talking to each other, that can come together with a good solution to make sure that this problem is fixed once and for all,” Ryan said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Obama on Friday met with Gutierrez and other leaders of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus at the White House to discuss immigration. Gutierrez — who has been concerned about the growing number of deportations — told me Sunday that Obama told the group that immigration reform “was his number one priority.”