WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Leading Democratic and Republican senators said on Sunday there were encouraging signs in the push to overhaul U.S. immigration laws - a top priority for President Obama's second term - and they would introduce their plan this week.
With Obama set to begin his push for immigration reform with a speech in Las Vegas on Tuesday, a group of three Democratic and three Republican senators have been working for weeks on a plan.
One of those senators, Republican John McCain of the border state of Arizona, said on ABC's "This Week" program that the group still had hard work ahead but that he was pleased with the progress and that the principles of a comprehensive plan would be put forth this week.
McCain said the plan was much like a 2007 immigration proposal that died during the presidency of George W. Bush. That plan included a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, tighter borders, a guest worker program and requirements for employers to verify workers' immigration status.
The immigration issue was largely pushed aside during Obama's first term as economic concerns weighed more heavily, but the president, who had overwhelming backing from Hispanic voters in his 2012 re-election, cited it as part of his agenda when sworn in for a second term last week.
McCain said the political aspect of immigration reform should sway any Republicans who object to a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
"We are losing dramatically the Hispanic vote, which we think should be ours, for a variety of reasons, and we've got to understand that," he said.
McCain said change also was needed because "we can't go on forever with 11 million people living in this country in the shadows in an illegal status. We cannot forever have children who were born here, who were brought here by their parents when they were small children, to live in the shadows, as well."
Democrat Dick Durbin of Illinois, another member of the six-person Senate group, said on "Fox News Sunday" that work remained to be done but that the progress was encouraging.
"We are trying work our way through some very difficult issues but we are committed to a comprehensive approach to finally in this country having an immigration law that we can live with," he said. "We have virtually been going for maybe 25 years without a clear statement about immigration policy. That's unacceptable in this nation of immigrants."
Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey who is also a member of the immigration group, said on "This Week" that he was cautiously optimistic because of the bipartisan spirit that has prevailed in the recent reform effort.
"I see things that were once off the table for agreement and discussion being on the table with a serious pathway forward," he said.
Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, a Republican who is not a member of the group, said he had spoken with one of its members, who said he was "very optimistic" about reform.
Reporting by Bill Trott; Editing by Eric Beech