Bitterly divided US lawmakers on Sunday expressed optimism that they could unite on immigration reform that would provide a pathway to citizenship for more than 10 million illegal migrants.
“I’m confident, guardedly optimistic, that this time we can get it done,” Republican Senator John McCain told ABC News, confirming that Republican and Democratic senators had been meeting on the issue in recent weeks.
McCain, who once championed comprehensive reform but backtracked during his failed 2008 presidential run, said there was a greater willingness to address the issue after last year’s election, in which the increasingly important Hispanic vote swung strongly behind President Barack Obama’s Democrats.
“I’ll give you a little straight talk — look at the last election,” McCain, who represents the border state of Arizona, told interviewer Martha Raddatz.
“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.”
He added that “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 — (or) 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.”
Democratic Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, who attended a meeting on Friday between Obama and congressional Hispanic leaders, said he too was “cautiously optimistic.”
“I see the right spirit. I see things that were once off the table for agreement and discussion being on the table with a serious pathway forward,” he told ABC News’ Raddatz.
Obama will travel to the state of Nevada next week to push for rapid immigration reform, one of his top priorities for the next four years.
During the trip, his first since being sworn in last week for a second term, Obama will “redouble the efforts to work with Congress to fix the broken immigration system this year,” the White House said Friday.
A bill backed by Obama that would have legalized the status of many of the estimated 10 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States died in Congress at the end of 2010 because of Republican opposition.
Reforming America’s aging immigration system is the only issue that has generated some degree of political consensus since the November elections.
Hispanics voted massively for Obama, flexing their growing political heft in several key states, and since then Republican leaders and well-known conservative commentators have jumped on the reform bandwagon.