BORDER COMMISSION DEBATED
The group has promised that before there is a pathway to anything, U.S. borders must be declared "secure."
It has been considering a commission composed of elected officials from border states to help the U.S. government make that determination, a prospect that has raised concerns from some Democrats, who fear giving border-state Republicans - they point to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer - an outsized role.
Brewer has clashed with the Obama administration over an Arizona law she signed in 2010 clamping down on illegal immigration.
"The idea is to have local input about the progress we are making on the borders," said Durbin. "But critics fear any one governor could say it is inadequate, denying citizenship to millions."
"We need a way to have local input, but not local veto," Durbin said.
The senators appear to have public opinion on their side.
According to a Public Religion Research Institute poll released on Thursday, 63 percent of Americans said they supported a path to citizenship for undocumented foreigners.
But the path through Congress will not be easy.
Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah, a favorite of the conservative Tea Party movement, was invited to join the group, but declined, for reasons that reflect broader concerns within the Republican Party.
"There were a few things I couldn't agree to," Lee said of the framework the group of eight developed and released in January, which included the pathway to citizenship.
"In trying to address the problem, we shouldn't create another one by giving a special set of legal advantages to illegal aliens," Lee said.
Lee warned that the group may be trying to do too much with one bill. "I'm not convinced that comprehensive" legislation - as opposed to a piecemeal approach - "won't be a problem itself," Lee said.
Lee and five other Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are trying to slow down the immigration bill. In a letter to Democratic Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont on Wednesday, they warned "against rushing a massive bill with far-reaching implications," suggesting a "step-by-step" approach was needed.
It takes 60 votes to get a bill through the Senate, which is composed of 53 Democrats, two independents who vote with Democrats and 45 Republicans.
A BAND AND A BOND
But for some in the group of eight, getting this far in the era of gridlock is hope for the hopeless.
"It is the most productive series of conversations that I have had in four years in the Senate," said Democratic Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, one of the eight lawmakers participating in the discussions. "This is the best opportunity in a generation to pass immigration reform."