The move would amount to the first tentative step toward comprehensive immigration reform after long-standing gridlock on the issue. The new effort was spurred in large part by the growing influence of Latino voters who strongly backed President Obama and other Democrats in November.
Obama has also called immigration reform one of his top legislative priorities and is launching his own public campaign on the issue next week in Nevada. But a significant number of Americans, particularly within the Republican Party, remain opposed to laws that would make it easier for illegal immigrants to stay in the country or obtain legal status.
The senators are expected to call for normalizing the status of the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants, including allowing those with otherwise clean criminal records to obtain legal work permits, officials said. The group is also likely to endorse stricter border controls and a better system for employers to verify the immigration status of workers.
It was not clear, however, whether the final agreement will offer guidance on perhaps the thorniest issue in the immigration debate: what mechanism illegal immigrants could use to pursue full citizenship.
“We have basic agreement on many of the core principles,” Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), a member of the group, said this week. “Now we have to draft it. It takes time.”
Other senators involved in the talks are Democrats Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Republicans Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), John McCain (Ariz.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.).
Two others, Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.), have also been involved in some of the discussions.
Congressional aides stress that a final agreement has not yet been reached. But the negotiations mark the most in-depth immigration talks involving members of both parties since a similar attempt broke down in 2010 without producing a bill.
McCain, who spearheaded an earlier failed effort in 2007, said Republican attitudes have dramatically shifted since the party’s losses at the polls in November. Obama won more than 70 percent of the vote among Latinos and Asians, and a growing number of GOP leaders believe that action on immigration is necessary to expand the party’s appeal to minority groups.
“Obviously, it’s had a very distinct impression,” said McCain, who lost his own bid for the White House in 2008. “It’s time to move forward on this.”
But, he added, “I don’t claim that it’s going to be easy.”
The accelerated pace signals that immigration reform is expected to be one of Congress’s highest priorities, and it comes as the White House prepares to launch its own public campaign on the issue.