- The Washington Times - Monday, January 28, 2013

Previous attempts to tackle immigration reform have failed, but this time Republicans have something new at stake: their own political survival.

Many Republican leaders have decided that to remain viable, the party must make major inroads with Hispanic voters, and do so soon.

One of the surest ways to accomplish that is to embrace serious immigration reform, and lawmakers from both parties said Sunday that a compromise can be reached and a bill passed this year.

“The time is right” for immigration reform, Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said during an appearance on ABC’s “This Week.”

Mr. McCain, one of the driving forces behind a reform effort in 2007 that eventually stalled, said his party needs only to remember the results of the November elections to see why it must address the issue.

“Look back at the last election. We are losing, dramatically, the Hispanic vote, which we think should be ours for a variety of reasons,” he said. “We’ve got to understand that. We can’t go on forever with 11 million people living in the shadows.”

President Obama captured more than 70 percent of the Hispanic vote to Republican challenger Mitt Romney’s 27 percent. The gap will become even more important in coming elections as the nation’s Hispanic population grows.

Helping push immigration reform to the finish line, rather than being dragged along by Mr. Obama and congressional Democrats, likely will pay political dividends for the Republican Party in the short term and in decades to come.

Mr. McCain and three fellow Republican senators — South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, Florida’s Marco Rubio and Arizona’s Jeff Flake — have joined four Democrats to address the issue and find common ground. They plan to release in the next few months broad principles that will guide their eventual legislation.

Mr. Obama will begin his own push for immigration reform during a speech Tuesday in Las Vegas and will outline a revamped immigration policy during his State of the Union address Feb. 12.

Although details of the Senate and White House plans have not been determined, Democrats are unified in demanding that any legislation include a path to citizenship.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat interviewed on CNN’s “State of the Union,” said a path to citizenship is “an important part of any immigration reform proposal.”

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat and member of the bipartisan Senate group, said on “Fox News Sunday” that the immigration package will include such a pathway.

Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat and a member of the group, sounded almost as if the inclusion of a pathway to citizenship is a foregone conclusion.

“Latino voters expect it. Democrats want it. Republicans need it,” Mr. Menendez said during an appearance on “This Week.”

Exactly what that pathway will look like and how many Republicans will support it remain to be seen. But in light of November’s election results, Republican leaders acknowledge that they must support some policies — a pathway to citizenship or perhaps something else — that ingratiate the party with Hispanics.

“How can we be a party of growth, of free enterprise, of prosperity, but not be the party of immigration?” said Carlos Gutierrez, a campaign adviser for Mr. Romney who has since founded the super PAC Republicans for Immigration Reform.

“What [Hispanics] sense is that we don’t welcome them. We have to be the party that celebrates immigration,” he said on “State of the Union.”

Mr. Romney’s vice presidential pick, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, also said immigration reform can be accomplished this year. He said Republicans must embrace “a balance between respecting the rule of law and adhering to the reality of the day.”

But, like others in his party, he fears that Democrats may try to widen their lead among Hispanic voters rather than find common ground with Republicans.

“The president has a big speech coming up. The question many of us are asking, Republicans and Democrats: Is he looking to play politics or does he want to solve the problem? We don’t know the answer to that,” Mr. Ryan said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

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