WASHINGTON -- Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Sunday they are working together on a plan for immigration reform that will include a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the United States -- a step forward after the Republican party's years of stonewalling such efforts as "amnesty."
"We need to be firm and fair. Self-deportation isn't going to work," Graham said on CBS' "Face the Nation," acknowledging that most voters support pathways to citizenship.
Some Republicans said this week they would work on immigration reform, after former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney suffered a crushing loss with Latino voters who largely support it. Romney took a hardline stance on immigration during the Republican primary, saying he would veto the Dream Act for undocumented youth and support policies to encourage "self-deportation," or making life difficult for those here without authorization until they decided to leave.
Neither of those positions are popular with Latino voters, a smaller percentage of whom supported Romney than the GOP nominees in 2008, 2004 and 2000.
Graham said the Republican party had alienated Latino voters with its policies and rhetoric on immigration, an idea borne out by virtually all polling on the issue.
"This is an odd formula for a party to adopt: the fastest-growing demographic in the country and we're losing votes every election cycle, it has to stop," he said. "It's one thing to shoot yourself in the foot -- just don't reload the gun."
"So I intend not to reload this gun when it comes to Hispanics," he continued. "I intend to tear this wall down and pass an immigration reform bill that's an American solution to an American problem. But we have nobody to blame but ourselves when it comes to losing Hispanics. And we can get them back with some effort on our part."
Graham's decision to re-enter discussions signals potential progress on the issue. He was a leader on the Republican side in the past, along with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), but had since backed away from any type of discussion of giving legal status to undocumented immigrants already in the United States.
Graham indicated that he would support a plan that allowed undocumented immigrants to eventually gain citizenship in the United States. He said it would involve securing the border and asking undocumented immigrants to come to the government, pay taxes, speak English and "get in the back of the line before they can become citizens."
On NBC's "Meet the Press," Schumer said he and Graham are speaking to colleagues in the Senate in hopes of finding a bipartisan agreement on immigration reform.
"I think we have a darned good chance using this blueprint to get something done this year," he said. "The Republican Party has learned that being ... anti-immigrant doesn't work for them politically. And they know it."
Schumer, like Graham, said that plan would include a pathway to citizenship but not amnesty. It would require immigrants "to learn English, you have to go to the back of the line, you've got to have a job, and you can't commit crimes."
There's some appetite for reform in the Republican-led House of Representatives as well, according to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). He remained mum on Friday about whether he would support eventual citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
"I'm not going to get into any of the details of how you would get there," he told reporters at a press conference. "It's just time to get the job done."