But although Republican leaders are newly interested in a compromise on immigration, many in the party say that allowing undocumented immigrants to live here legally is enough and that a push for citizenship would face fierce, and possibly insurmountable, opposition from conservatives.
The tension has deepened in recent days, with disagreements emerging within each party as bipartisan groups in the House and the Senate try to move toward a compromise even as they face hard-line opposition from some voices in their political bases.
On the right, some conservatives have begun heaping criticism on one of their own rising stars, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the Cuban American who is a potential presidential candidate and who is championing a compromise. On the left, some liberals are privately grousing that Democratic senators working with Rubio are giving too much ground.
A key question is whether to require that certain conditions be met before illegal immigrants could be put on the path to citizenship — and how the government would determine success.
The Senate group, which includes Rubio and top members of both parties, would require that the U.S.-Mexico border be found secure and that other strict enforcement measures be enacted before those here illegally could become citizens. Many on the left say the path needs to be more straightforward, while many on the right see even the compromise idea as a non-starter, deeming it too lenient.
A path to citizenship is “certainly going to be a problem in the House,” said Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which will hold a hearing next week on the issue. “There are a lot of options between deporting 11 million people, which most people don’t believe will happen, and giving [them] citizenship.”
On the other side, Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, said he would support only legislation that gives every deserving illegal immigrant a chance at citizenship. “If it’s too exclusionary, then we’ll fight against it,” he said.
The tensions underscore the difficulty of forging consensus on such a politically charged issue, even after Obama’s decisive election win last year among Hispanics led several prominent Republicans to express an eagerness to strike a deal.
The senators behind the framework — Republicans Rubio, John McCain (Ariz.), Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), along with Democrats Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), Robert Menendez (N.J.) and Michael F. Bennet (Colo.) — have been exuding confidence that a deal was within reach.