Are Republican immigration reform opponents losing clout?

Close up of pencil on immigration application form. iStockphoto

Mitt Romney's stinging defeat among Hispanic voters has led to a change of heart among many in the Republican Party who are now warning of even greater losses in the future if Republicans don't do a better job reaching out to the growing voting bloc, specifically on the immigration issue. But as the Republican chorus for reform is starting to increase, some in the party are continuing to champion strict anti-immigration policies.

"The conservative movement should have particular appeal to people in minority and immigrant communities who are trying to make it, and Republicans need to work harder than ever to communicate our beliefs to them," Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said in a statement released immediately after Mitt Romney conceded the presidential election. President Obama received 70 percent of the Hispanic vote compared to Romney's 27 percent, according to the CBS News election night exit poll.

"What I'm talking about is a common sense, step-by-step approach would secure our borders, allow us to enforce the laws, and fix a broken immigration system," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told ABC two days after the election.

The following Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said on "Face the Nation"that Republicans have "built a wall" between the party and Hispanics with their "tone and rhetoric."

"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," Graham said. He also promised to pass immigration reform legislation.

In recent years, anti-immigration views have dominated the Republican Party's position. For instance, Gov. Jan Brewer, R-Ariz., signed a strict immigration measure into law in 2010 that allows for law enforcement officers to check immigration status based on suspicion. Critics say that leads to racial profiling. Many Republicans pointed to Arizona as a model for the rest of the country and similar legislation was enacted in Alabama and four other states before the Supreme Court struck down a large part of Arizona's law.

Despite the post-election shift in thinking among some Republicans, others are not on board.

"It's one of the greatest, fastest, flawed knee-jerk reactions I've ever seen," Bob Dane, communications director at the anti-immigration organization Federation for American Immigration Reform, told CBS News. He attributed the shift in position to Republicans "trying to figure out how to get right" with Hispanic voters.

Dane said Republicans are "setting the stage for their own self destruction." He said immigration reform that provides "amnesty," or providing a pathway for undocumented immigrants to receive legal status, would give Democrats "12 million government dependent voters that could usher in a one-party system in perpetuity." Dane was referring to the estimated number of undocumented immigrants living in the United States.

"An amnesty bill will split the Republican Party," Dane added.

"If Republicans think [immigrants] are automatically going to vote Democrat, they don't have much confidence in their own party's policies and they don't know Hispanics," Richard Land of the conservative Southern Baptist Convention told CBS News, who noted that Hispanics are family-oriented, entrepreneurial, religious and pro-life - characteristics associated with Republicans.

  • Leigh Ann Caldwell On Twitter»

    Leigh Ann Caldwell is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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