The announcement of the bipartisan endeavor came the weekend before a speech by President Obama, scheduled for Tuesday at a Las Vegas high school, in which immigration is expected to be the central theme. Obama's appearance might be seen as a thank-you to Nevada voters, in particular Hispanics, for his six-point election victory in the state.
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney had hoped to do better given Nevada's large population of fellow Mormons. But his party's deserved reputation for being allergic to immigration reform cost him votes - and not only in Nevada, but also in Florida, California, and other states with numerous Hispanic residents.
But no more, says Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), a longtime proponent of immigration reform who in recent years seemed to have lost his voice on the subject. "Look at the last election," McCain said Sunday. "We are losing dramatically the Hispanic vote, which we think should be ours."
The framework fashioned by McCain and seven other senators, including Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.), would include a path to legal residency and ultimately citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants living in this country. But the apparatus for that to happen wouldn't be operative until stronger measures are taken to secure the borders.
Even without additional measures, the United States is seeing fewer illegal immigrants crossing its southern border - one big reason being the recession's lasting impact, which made it harder for border jumpers or anyone else to find a job. It's estimated that in 2010 and 2011, more Mexicans left this country than entered it illegally. There are also more than 21,000 Border Patrol agents now - more than at any time since 1924.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) wants the eventual legislation to specify that legal immigrants would stay at the head of the line for citizenship. That certainly seems like a reasonable request. Along with it, though, should come an expedited process, so it doesn't take decades for qualified immigrants to achieve citizenship. Otherwise, there is likely to be a tremendous backlog of applicants.
The momentum for immigration reform appears strong, but will it be enough to get a deserving bill through the House, which has been a stumbling block in the past?
Obama sidestepped Congress last year with an executive order exonerating immigrants brought into the country illegally as children. This time, Republicans not wanting to make the mistake of further offending Hispanic voters may keep in step with Obama.