WASHINGTON -- Two senators on opposite sides of the aisle are proposing comprehensive changes to the immigration laws that would include a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants now in the United States.
Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York and Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who promoted similar proposals on separate Sunday news shows said that no path to citizenship would be available until the country's borders were secure.
Only then could those in the U.S. without authorization "come out of the shadows, get biometrically identified, start paying taxes, pay a fine for the law they broke," Graham told CBS' "Face the Nation." "They can't stay unless they learn our language, and they have to get in the back of line before they become citizens. They can't cut in front of the line regarding people who are doing it right and it can take over a decade to get their green card." A green card grants permanent residency status -- a step toward citizenship.
Schumer told NBC's "Meet the Press" that he and Graham have resumed talks on immigration policy that broke off two years ago and "have put together a comprehensive detailed blueprint on immigration reform" that has "the real potential for bipartisan support based on the theory that most Americans are for legal immigration, but very much against illegal immigration."
Graham, however, made no mention of working with the chairman of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, refugees and border security.
Immigration policy, largely ignored during President Barack Obama's first four years in office, has re-emerged as a major issue as Republicans seek ways to rebound from their election performance. More than 70 percent of Hispanic voters supported Obama, who has been more open than Republicans to comprehensive overhaul of immigration laws.
Three days after Tuesday's election, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said it was time to address immigration policy. He urged Obama to take the lead in coming up with a plan that would look at both improved enforcement of immigration law and the future of the estimated 11 million people living in the country illegally. Boehner, however, did not commit to the citizenship issue.
Graham said that the "tone and rhetoric" Republicans used in the immigration debate of 2006 and 2007 "has built a wall between the Republican Party and Hispanic community," causing Hispanic support to dwindle from 44 percent in 2004 to 27 percent in 2012.
"This is an odd formula for a party to adopt, the fastest growing demographic in the country, and we're losing votes every election. It's one thing to shoot yourself in the foot, just don't reload the gun. I intend not to reload this gun when it comes to Hispanics. I intend to tear this wall down and pass an immigration reform bill that's an American solution to an American problem," he said.
Both senators said the overhaul would include developing a secure document to assure employers they're hiring people authorized to work in the country, and allowing legal immigration for needed workers at all skill levels. The path to citizenship would require immigrants to learn English, go to the back of the citizenship line, have a job and not commit crimes.
Graham said the overhaul would have to be done in such a way that "we don't have a third wave of illegal immigration 20 years from now. That's what Americans want. They want more legal immigration and they want to fix illegal immigration once and for all."
In exit polls on Tuesday, The Associated Press found 65 percent favored offering most illegal immigrants workers in the United States a chance to apply for legal status, more than double the number who said most should be deported. Even among Republicans, the party associated with crackdowns on illegal immigration, about half favored a path toward staying in the U.S.