WASHINGTON -- Side by side, leading Democratic and Republican senators pledged yesterday to propel far-reaching immigration legislation through the Senate by summer, providing a possible path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million people now in the United States illegally.
The senators acknowledged pitfalls that have doomed such efforts in the past but suggested that November's elections -- with Hispanics voting heavily for President Barack Obama and other Democrats -- could make this time different.
Passage of the emotionally charged legislation by the Democrat-controlled Senate is far from assured, and a taller hurdle could come later in the House, which is dominated by conservative Republicans who've shown little interest in immigration overhaul.
Obama is expected to lay out his own proposals today.
Besides the citizenship provision, including new qualifications, the measure would increase border security, allow more temporary workers to stay and crack down on employers who would hire illegal immigrants.
The plans are still short on detail, and all the senators conceded that months of tedious and politically treacherous negotiations lie ahead.
But with a re-elected Obama pledging his commitment, the lawmakers argued that six years after the last sustained congressional effort at an immigration overhaul came up short in the Senate, chances for approval this year are much better.
"Other bipartisan groups of senators have stood in the same spot before, trumpeting similar proposals," said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), one of the senators who presented the framework for immigration legislation Monday. "But we believe this will be the year Congress finally gets it done. The politics on this issue have been turned upside down."
Schumer argued that polls show more support than ever for immigration changes and political risk in opposing it.
"Elections. Elections," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), another member of the bipartisan group. "The Republican Party is losing the support of our Hispanic citizens. And we realize that there are many issues on which we think we are in agreement with our Hispanic citizens, but this is a pre-eminent issue with those citizens."
Obama got 71 percent of the Latino vote in November compared with 27 percent for Republican Mitt Romney.
The president travels to Las Vegas today to lay out his proposals for immigration changes that are expected to be similar to the Senate proposals in many ways.
"This effort is too important to be written in a backroom and sent to the floor with a take-it-or-leave it approach," McConnell said. "It needs to be done on a bipartisan basis and include ideas from both sides of the aisle."