Next order of business in Washington: Immigration reform

Activists protest on March 14, 2011 outside the US embassy in San Salvador demanding President Obama a reform in the immigration regulations and to stop the deportation of Salvadorean immigrants.

Forging ahead with what President Obama has granted top billing on his second-term agenda, lawmakers this week will introduce a plan for comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for those living in the country illegally, and which both Republicans and Democrats say could become law this year.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who unsuccessfully tried to spearhead similar legislation before his 2008 White House bid, is part of a six-member bipartisan Senate team that for weeks has been working on a passable bill. Appearing on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday, he said evolving politics make him hopeful for better success this time around.

"What's changed is, honestly, is that there is a new, I think, appreciation on both sides of the aisle, including, maybe more importantly, on the Republican side of the aisle, that we have to enact a comprehensive immigration reform bill," McCain said.

"We can't go on forever with 11 million people living in this country in the shadows in illegal status," he continued. "We cannot forever have children who were born here, who were brought here by their parents when they were small children, live in the shadows as well. I think the time is right."

Another member of the Senate group, Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., agreed on "This Week" that Republicans and Democrats alike are growing increasingly amenable to a pathway to "earned legalization." He said he expects the package to also include tightened border security and a crackdown on hiring undocumented employees.

"I see things that were once off the table for agreement and discussion being on the table with a serious pathway forward," he said.

But while Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said on "Fox News Sunday" the group is "committed to a comprehensive approach to finally, in this country, have an immigration law we can live with," he added there remain "some very difficult issues" to work through.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a group member whose parents were Cuban immigrants, wrote in an op-ed Sunday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal that before the government creates an avenue to citizenship for illegal immigrants, it must first find a way to improve its enforcement of immigration laws. "We... can't fix our broken immigration system if we provide incentives for people to come here illegally - precisely the signal a blanket amnesty would send," he wrote.

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