Its clear that while the immigration issue is not at the top of the list for Latino-Americans, the rhetoric and tone and vitriol that my party has used on this topic has not helped us, McCall said.
McCall, one of three African-American Republican National Committee members, said he regrets having opposed the 2007 immigration reform drive that Graham, McCain and then-President George W. Bush launched along with the late Democratic U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts.
In retrospect, that was the wrong thing for me to do and the right thing to do for Sen. Graham, McCall said. I opposed it out of ignorance, for one. ... Ive gotten past the emotions to look at whats best for the country and whats best for this (Hispanic) community.
Another conservative who has had a change of heart is Randy Page of Lexington, a delegate to the 2012 Republican National Convention and a member of its platform committee.
I freely admit that I was part of the other side (from Graham) that was very shrill against any type of reform, Page said Tuesday. Ive changed from that in the past few months.
The election results had a good bit to do with it, along with listening to Sens. Rubio and Graham talk about the need for reform and how we need to come together. Its just been a shouting match in the past. Weve never tried to sit down and be kind to each other and try to figure out a solution.
Graham said he wants to avoid repeating the mistakes made under the 1986 amnesty granted by then-President Ronald Reagan, in which 3 million undocumented workers received legal status without taking enforcement steps to prevent a wave of new immigrants from entering the country.
I want border security. I want a temporary-worker program, and I want employer verification so we dont repeat the mistakes of the past, Graham said. Everybody who stays should learn the English language and get in the back of the line if they want to become a citizen.
Graham, McCall and Page all agreed that Romney damaged his White House campaign when he identified self-deportation as a solution to illegal immigration. I dont think theres any question that it hurt, Page said. It just sent the wrong message.
Graham said there can be no solution without finding a way forward for the 11 million undocumented workers already in the country.
Theyre not going to self-deport, he said. Theyre not going to get on a bus and go back. Some of these people have been here for decades with children and grandchildren who are American citizens.
Even with the political winds now at his back, Graham doesnt expect to get a free ride.
Already some Senate Republicans are lining up to oppose the bipartisan reform initiative, including U.S. Sens. David Vitter of Louisiana, Ted Cruz of Texas and Jeff Sessions of Alabama.
Neither does Graham anticipate a love-fest back home. Hes prepared to face some of the hostility he endured in 2007 from some S.C. GOP activists.
Anytime you deal with a complicated, emotional issue, youre going to draw fire, Graham said. I expect to get criticized by some. If you want to yell at me, thats fine, but youd better tell me what you would do. And if you tell me that youd put all 11 million people on a bus, Im not going to listen to you anymore.
Adding he wants to look at the details of Obamas new proposal, Graham said he is hopeful that 2013 will be the year when comprehensive immigration reform is finally accomplished.
This is the right time to do it, he said. This is the best time Ive seen to get it done.