All this suggests that the Republican Party seems to have gotten the message after its shellacking last fall, though it is still unclear whether softer stances will translate into broad enough support for an overhaul that includes a pathway to citizenship for the country's estimated 11 million illegal immigrants.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney won only 27 percent support from Hispanics and even less from Asians. And an AP-GFK poll last month showed 62 percent of voters want to let otherwise law-abiding illegal immigrants eventually become citizens, up 12 percentage points from 2010.
During the GOP presidential primaries, Romney wooed the party's right flank by echoing their rhetoric on immigration and advocating "self-deportation," or making life in the U.S. so miserable for illegal immigrants they would voluntarily return home. His campaign staff later said they regretted the sharp turn because it alienated minority voters.
Now Republicans are trying to get them back. "All of their campaign consultants are telling them that the end is near if they don't change," said Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, which advocates tighter immigration restrictions. He added that Republicans have long-favored a narrower version of the DREAM Act — formally, the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act — which would legalize the status of people brought here illegally as children who graduate from college or serve in the military.
The shift has been particularly dramatic in the West, where the most recent wave of illegal immigration began in the 1990s and the GOP's tough response helped drive Hispanic votes to newly ascendant Democrats.
In California, a handful of GOP state legislators joined Democratic colleagues at a news conference last week to back a pathway to citizenship in any immigration overhaul. In Nevada, where immigrant votes have given Democrats a lopsided edge in recent elections, the state Republican Party last week endorsed legalizing the status of unauthorized immigrants.