South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsay Graham, at left, made the economic and political case for immigration reform. (Photo/Getty Images )

Graham: Economy will “fall apart” without immigration reform

The U.S. economy will “fall apart” without immigration reform, said South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsay Graham, making an impassioned speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce this morning for the economic as well as the political necessity of passing immigration legislation.  Social Security and Medicare are “under siege,” Graham said to the crowd. “We need workers, and they are going to come from immigration,” he added.

Beyond economics, immigration reform is crucial to gaining the support of Latino voters, said Graham to the crowd. “John (McCain) and I have been talking about the declining standing vis-a-vis the Hispanic community,” said Graham.  The South Carolina Republican said “you don’t have to be a rocket scientist” to figure out that the Latino voter decline — from 44 percent support in 2004 compared to 27 percent in 2012 — was largely due to Republicans’ immigration policies.

The day during the Republican primaries that Mitt Romney used the term ‘self-deportation,” Graham and McCain called him and urged him to reconsider and think it through, according to Graham, who recounted this in his speech. “The whole concept was not practical — and somewhat offensive,” said Graham.  The good news, he said, is that the Republican National Committee recently came out supporting reform, and he called Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio a “gamechanger” for his work and support on immigration reform.

“We need to get immigration off our table and in the rearview mirror,” said Senator Graham.

Graham, McCain and Rubio — all key Republicans in the Senate’s bipartisan Gang of Eight — are making the case for their sweeping immigration proposal as the time gets closer to the May 9th markup date, when the bill will be debated and amended in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

RELATED: House Chairman will introduce piece by piece immigration bills

Today, immigration reform advocates said they are optimistic about the strength of the bipartisan bill in the Senate, though they say they are preparing for the fact that parts of the bill will come under fire from primarily Republican Senators.

“Individuals will push to have an age cap for Dreamers, and waivers will be a big target,” says Lorella Praelli, Director of Advocacy and Policy at United We Dream. “I anticipate there will be an amendment for harsher border triggers and making the pathway to citizenship contingent on border triggers,” she adds.

Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-immigration reform group America’s Voice, argued that border security and a path to citizenship should not be an ‘either/or,’ but a ‘both/and.’  “We’ve spent billions of dollars, unauthorized immigration is currently at net zero, and we’ve done nothing to put undocumented immigrants on a path to citizenship or modernize our legal immigration system.”

But it won’t just be conservatives wanting to change the bill; progressive groups are expected to push to include LGBT couples in the legislation, as well as make the case to keep diversity visas and more family immigration.

One good indication that the immigration bill is on strong footing, says NDN’s and New Policy Institute’s president Simon Rosenberg, is that it survived a serious test after influential Republicans defended pursuing immigration reform after the Boston bombings, and argued the bill made the country safer.

“I’m much more optimistic about the bill passing today than 10 days ago,” said Rosenberg.

In his Chamber of Commerce speech, Senator Graham seemed to say the same thing.  “The way this bill gets attacked is on process — that won’t work,” said Graham. “They’re going to say it costs money; we’ll take it head on,” he added, saying he was never more encouraged about the chances of getting 70 votes in the Senate in favor of immigration reform.

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