GOP could face immigration issue in NM Senate primary

Putting the immigration issue on the "back burner," he said, "is not in the best interests of this country."

"The federal government has to really get off their backside and deal with the issue of immigration," Sanchez said.

Sanchez won't go into details about what sort of reforms he'd support. Asked about the DREAM Act, which would create a pathway to legality for young illegal immigrants, he was noncommittal.

"Without having the ability to debate and to look at that bill completely, there's a lot of the devils in the details there," he said. "I think that the discussion needs to happen."

Sanchez said he wouldn't necessarily "carry the water" on an immigration reform bill. "But I'd have the political courage and the strength to be able to address that openly," he said.

The Republican said he wasn't worried his party could be hurt by a heated immigration debate in 2012. "Hispanics across the country want to have an honest discussion about immigration," he said. "I say that based on experience."

Still, he added,  "tone is always important, let's be clear."

"The politicizing of the immigration [issue], with both parties, has really been detrimental to trying get out an immigration bill that would help solve those challenges that are facing our country," Sanchez said.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) announced last month he wouldn't seek reelection in 2012, prompting several candidates to surge into the GOP primary for the open seat. The field now includes former Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.), businessman and former congressional candidate Greg Sowards and Bill English.

Sanchez said he would decide on a run "relatively soon."

More in Presidential races

New race, old faces for Hillary

Read more »