Graham Sees Immigration Bill As Big GOP Win

The politics of immigration are softening, and just in time to save the GOP.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, following the weekly Republican policy luncheon.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill Feb. 26 following the weekly Republican policy luncheon.

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Heading into the weekend, members of the bipartisan "gang of eight" feel confident their immigration legislation is almost ready for the spotlight.

"If I had to guess, early next week," says Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. "It is just a matter of drafting really. Major issues have been agreed on."

[ALSO: Republicans Optimistic They've Joined the Party on Immigration Reform]

A major sticking point - how many agricultural workers will be given visas and what they will be paid - is still being negotiated, but Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who had been working with the farm workers union and the Western Growers Association, told reporters Thursday that "we are very close."

Sources close to the negotiations, however, say that final details are still in flux, but that talks are moving along.

The progress displays not only a significant accomplishment for the Senate, but for the Republican party at large.

In November, raw from a big loss among Latino voters, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., had wanted nothing more than to get his party engaged in immigration debate. And after talking with Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., it was decided that while it would be a long haul, a deal would be struck only if both could make it to the finish line together.

[READ: Immigration Bill May Blow Up Over Ag Workers]

Graham says the deal marks a significant turn for the GOP, whose party platform eight months ago included a plank that asked the country's 11 million immigrants, who had entered the country illegally, to self deport.

"You always worry something this complicated, this emotional won't make it through, but compared to [2006, 2007] the winds are to our backs," Graham says. "The Republican party is much more even-keeled and practical about the 11 million. The key is to keeping labor and business together on the guest workers program. But from a Republican Party view, I think our self-deportation days are behind us."

While immigration reform doesn't appear as if it will immediately change the tides of the GOP's political fortunes with Latino voters, polls indicate there is hope that the Republican party may be able to court voters who previously perceived them as anti-immigrant.

A Latino Decisions poll last month showed 32 percent of Latino voters would be more likely to vote for a Republican candidate if the party was engaged and eager to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

The Senate's immigration proposal, however, will be the first step. The legislation will go through committee and be put up for a vote with a vigorous amendment process, which could still put the bill at risk.

[BROWSE: Political Cartoons About Immigration]

Even if it passes the Senate, the Republican-controlled house could be a tougher place for the bill to pass. According to the Georgetown Public Policy Review, of the 232 seats Republicans control, there are just 39 districts that contain a population made up of more than 20 percent of Latino voters. Only five GOP congressmen were elected in districts where Latinos made up more than 50 percent of the population.

To prepare for the forthcoming fight, a bipartisan group of lawmakers is working behind the scenes in the House to educate other members of Congress and iron out their own bill to increase the chances of its success.

"People will have a chance to amend it. They will certainly have a chance to read it, they will have a chance to make it better or try to kill it," Graham says. "I am going to have open ears to making it better, but those who obviously want to bring the bill down, I will fight for it. I have put a lot into it. I think it is important to the country. I think it is important to the party."

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