WASHINGTON -- In the wake of President Barack Obama's reelection with overwhelming support from Latino voters, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said Wednesday that Democrats will use that leverage to take on immigration reform next year.
"This election was a mandate to enact comprehensive immigration reform," the senator said during a speech at the Center for American Progress. "I have confidence that Republicans will work with us when they see the president is willing to expend some of the political capital that he has earned."
Although Latino voters generally rank jobs and the economy as the most important issues facing the country, immigration remains a top priority.
"They care deeply about the immigration issue because it strikes a responsive chord," said Menendez, who is Cuban-American. "When the Republican Party strikes out against immigrants, it reverberates throughout the whole community. And it strikes at the hearts of Latinos in this country."
Obama told progressive leaders Tuesday that he will prioritize immigration reform in his second term.
Since the election, prominent elements in the conservative movement have conceded that the GOP must soften its hard-line positions on immigration if it is to regain the level of support it once enjoyed among Latino voters.
Last week, Fox News host Sean Hannity said he has "evolved" on the treatment of undocumented immigrants and now supports a pathway to citizenship.
The conservative "Review & Outlook" section of The Wall Street Journal wrote this Tuesday that immigration benefits the U.S. economy and that GOP hard-liners should "keep in mind that more than Latinos are listening to the harsh rhetoric on immigration."
Even Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R), who has championed her state's stringent anti-immigrant law, said it would be "fine and dandy" to pursue comprehensive immigration reform.
Menendez said he is confident that the results of the 2012 elections will lead to action.
"With the help of the newly energized Democratic coalition and what I'll charitably describe as an awakened Republican Party, working together we have the opportunity to make progress on issues that have lingered on the back burner for too long, especially comprehensive immigration reform," he said.