Graham: Immigration reform must be dealt with 'once and for all'

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The issue has come front and center for Republicans after they were walloped by Democrats among Hispanic voters in Tuesday's election: GOP nominee Mitt Romney won just 27 percent of the Hispanic vote to Obama's 71. Romney's tally was down from the more than 40 percent that former President George W. Bush won in 2000 and 2004, with a number of top Republicans pointing to Obama's huge margin of victory with Hispanics as a key reason Romney lost.

Graham is one of them — he told The Hill in early September that "If it's a demographic election, we're in trouble," and he and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called Romney during the primary and warned him to tone down his rhetoric on immigration.

On Thursday, Graham gave some hints at what a GOP version of comprehensive immigration reform might look like.

"Assimilation must be a major component in any immigration reform proposal," he said in one tweet.

"We must also address the issue of birthright citizenship our we will continue to have illegal immigration for as far as the eye can see. Without changes in birthright citizenship we will have future waves of illegal immigration," Graham continued.

It's unlikely that ending birthright citizenship will be acceptable to Democrats — but it's notable that Graham and other Republicans have ramped up pressure on their party to move on the issue.

"As a 14-year elected Republican official, I'm very concerned about the direction of the Republican party," Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said on a Thursday conference call organized by National Immigration Forum, a pro-reform group. "It is an open opportunity right now to do something about this. My call to all elected officials is … to work on comprehensive immigration reform."

Shurtleff said he'd talked to GOP officials and expected there would be many conversations on the issue next week when Congress comes back in session.

"They need to step up and say 'we want to partner on this right now,' step up and propose your own [policies], work together on this and realize that that's what is going to be demanded," he said.

The group will host a two-day conference in early December to discuss how they can pressure Republican leaders to work with Democrats for reform.

One source close to Senate Republican leadership told The Hill on Wednesday that talks will start soon on the issue — but that actual policy proposals are unlikely until after the lame-duck session.

"My experience on elections is nothing really smart is decided on the day after the election," said the source. "I think moving too fast is going to hurt chances of getting something done. Something's going to happen sooner rather than later but if people start hashing out ideas this week or next that could lead to problems."

Graham authored a 2010 immigration reform bill with Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) . The proposal included strengthened border security, a system for admitting temporary workers and a path to legalization for those immigrants already in the country.