WASHINGTON, D.C. — As the heat behind the immigration debate in the nation's capitol continues to rise, conservatives in Congress are hoping to influence the outcome.
After years of hardline, enforcement-only rhetoric, Republicans are actively pursuing a pro-immigration reform stand. A new ad from a PAC called "Americans for a Conservative Direction" represents something proactive for conservatives on immigration.
But as hearings begin on Capitol Hill, there's anything but unity among Republicans, and especially across party lines.
Somewhere in the middle is Utah Sen. Mike Lee. At a Heritage Foundation lecture titled "The Conservative Agenda," Lee walked a fine line — critical of the size of the current proposal but supportive of both reform and of keeping hearings on track.
"In some ways, what happened in Boston this week is yet another reason for us to examine our immigration system and figure out how to reform it," he said.
But those who have been fighting this battle for years are losing patience. Advocates said conservatives don't have a choice but to move the immigration debate forward.
"To do nothing on immigration reform would be to hand Latinos a strong power block in 2016, 2020, which I think would put the Republican Party in minority status for the next 40 to 50 years," said Tony Yapias with Latino de Utah.
The 844-page bill is designed to secure the border, allow tens of thousands of new high- and low-skilled workers into the country while requiring employers to verify their legal status, and put 11 million people here illegally on a path to citizenship, as long as certain border security goals are met first.
The bill will get its first hearing Friday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
There do exist several areas that are widely regarded as common ground in the immigration debate: border security and reforming the visa system. Both issues, however are caught up in the overall debate and the politics behind it.