Citing a growing rift between the Republican Party and Hispanic voters, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham said yesterday he intends to re-open bipartisan talks to overhaul U.S. immigration policy.
Graham, who proposed a four-point immigration plan together with Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York in 2010, said he will again work to get an agreement this year.
A divisive congressional debate on immigration in 2006 and 2007 “built a wall” between Republicans and Hispanic voters, Graham said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” program. “I intend to tear this wall down and pass an immigration reform bill that’s an American solution to an American problem,” he said.
Schumer said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he’s discussing the overhaul legislation with Graham. Republican interest in the issue is elevated after President Barack Obama captured 71 percent of the nation’s fast-growing Hispanic vote in his re-election last week.
“The Republican Party has learned that being anti-illegal, anti-immigrant, doesn’t work for them,” Schumer said.
The Census Bureau estimates there were about 10.8 million unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. in 2010, more than half of them Mexican. Obama’s re-election opponent, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, advocated a program he called “self-deportation” for illegal immigrants that would require them to leave the country to receive legal status. Democrats say such a plan is unworkable; Graham agreed.
“We need to be firm and fair,” Graham said on CBS yesterday. “Self-deportation is not going to work.”
House Speaker John Boehner said last week that Republicans would like to resolve the debate.
“This issue has been around far too long,” Boehner said in an interview with ABC News on Nov. 8. “A comprehensive approach is long overdue, and I’m confident that the president, myself, others can find the common ground to take care of this issue once and for all.”
Graham said an overhaul would start by securing U.S. borders and making it more difficult for American firms to hire illegal immigrants. The legislation would create a “guestworker” system for immigrants, he said, and require illegal immigrants to pay taxes and fines to gain legal status. Those seeking citizenship would have to learn English and “get in back of the line,” he said.
“It could take over a decade to get a green card,” he said.