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Immigration reform more likely, but still challenging

A young man stands in the gates at the U.S.-Mexico border awaiting his deportation at the port of entry in Tijuana.
A young man stands in the gates at the U.S.-Mexico border awaiting his deportation at the port of entry in Tijuana.Associated Press

It's best to keep expectations in check when it comes to the 113th Congress, which begins in January. On most key areas of public policy, the House majority, dominated by far-right Republicans, are nowhere close to the Democratic Senate or White House, and generally find the very idea of compromise offensive.

But if there's one meaningful area where progress is likely, it's immigration reform.

Latino voters' decisive tilt toward Democrats in the presidential election has given new life to proposals that would clear a path to legal status for the estimated 11 million people in the U.S. unlawfully.

For the first time in five years, some soul-searching Republicans are calling on the GOP to change its tone and embrace ways to ease the law to keep families together while intensifying efforts to tighten the borders.

"For too long, both parties have used immigration as a political wedge issue," Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) said in a telephone interview. "But the time has come to find a bipartisan solution."

There's reason for encouragement. Republican leaders are starting to sing a new tune; bipartisan talks that were scrapped in 2010 have been renewed; and by all accounts, President Obama intends to push aggressively for a comprehensive bill, which will enjoy considerable public support. The prospects for success are arguably better now than at any point in decades.

But it still won't be easy. Republican Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Susan Collins (Maine), whose votes would likely be critical in the upper chamber, have both signaled support for a narrow, less ambitious approach, basically passing the Dream Act -- and nothing else.

Other Republicans are willing to go along with a watered down version of the Dream Act that offers no pathway to citizenship (a.k.a., the Dream Act without the Dream).

Much of this may turn out to be posturing, and we probably won't have a real sense of the framework of the debate until after the State of the Union. But I mention this because even the reform bill with the best chance of success in 2013 will be a very heavy lift.