In post-election shift, GOP resurrects immigration bills in Congress

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 19: U.S. citizenship candidate Martin Jaurequi, 1, is held by his father Hector as he takes the oath of citizenship with his mother Michelle Cuesta during a naturalization ceremony at the Los Angeles Central Library on September 19, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. In recognition of Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, fifty local children participated in the citizenship ceremony as part of over 32,000 new citizens being welcomed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services from September 14 to September 22. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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The facts are undisputed: Republicans have a problem attracting Hispanic voters.

With Mitt Romney as the prime example of how bad the situation is for the GOP - he lost Hispanics by over 40 points to President Obama - some in the party have drawn the conclusion that the GOP's hard line on immigration is the reason for its troubles with Hispanics. In the aftermath of Romney's drubbing, several Republicans publicly called for their party to be more inclusive and some have now moved to the next stage of repairing relations with Hispanic voters - proposing legislation - despite criticism from Democrats that this push is purely political.

The Republican-led House of Representatives is taking up a measure this week that would create a new immigration program to give high-skilled workers in the science, technology engineering and math (STEM) industries permanent residency in the U.S.

Additionally, two retiring Republicans, Sens. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, joined with fellow co-sponsor Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to introduce a new version of the DREAM Act legislation Tuesday. It would provide permanent residency, but not citizenship, to children under the age of 14 brought to the U.S. by their illegal immigrant parents. In exchange, the youth would have to obtain higher education or serve in the military. The measure is similar to the presidential directive issued by Mr. Obama this past summer and would lock it into federal law.

"While this legislation addresses a single facet of our nation's complex immigration problem, it is nonetheless a step forward in addressing a time sensitive issue," Kyl said.

A Senate Democratic aide said the measure means little because undocumented youth have already been given reprieve from the president. He also said it is unlikely to be brought up before the end of the year, but "it is encouraging that Republicans are willing to correct the missteps and move the debate forward" for the next Congress.

Many Republicans, until recently, were adamantly opposed to various versions of the DREAM Act, even though it was first introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah., in 2001.

For example, in 2010, after the Senate failed to pass a version of the DREAM Act that included a path to citizenship, McCain said, "I cannot put the priorities of these students, as difficult and unfair in many respects as their situation is, ahead of my constituents and the American people who demand that the Federal government fulfill its Constitutional duty to secure our borders before we undertake other reforms." 

Mark Kirkorian, Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that calls for fewer legal immigrants and strongly opposes illegal immigration, says the DREAM Act is a "compelling" issue for Republicans if they want to appeal to Hispanic voters because undocumented children are blameless innocents.

"They need to do something proactive but also address this most sympathetic group of illegal aliens," Kirkorian said.

Meanwhile, the House bill being taken up this week, the STEM Act, is authored by Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, who has previously been a staunch supporter of many of the harshest immigration proposals, including notifying authorities when illegal immigrants are admitted to hospitals and doing away with birthright citizenship to children born to immigrants in the U.S.

"We cannot afford to educate these foreign graduates in the U.S. and then send them back home to work for our competitors. For America to remain the world's economic leader, we must have access to the world's best talent," Smith said in a recent statement.

But Smith's push to pass the STEM Act is viewed by some through a purely political lens, and some say his efforts are futile and misguided.

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    Leigh Ann Caldwell is a political reporter for