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Immigration reform: Is 'amnesty' a possibility now?

Congress seems primed to address immigration reform in 2013, and even a path to citizenship – which critics deride as 'amnesty' for illegals – may be on the table. The shift in the national conversation came suddenly. Here's why. 

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Members of the House have seen movement, too. "One thing clearly has changed," says Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D) of Illinois, the lawmaker who co-wrote a 2005 comprehensive immigration reform measure with now Sen.-elect Jeff Flake (R) of Arizona. "Nobody is talking about self-deportation. Nobody is talking about how [Arizona's controversial immigration law] should be the standard applied across the land. Nobody is talking about vetoing the DREAM Act," which offers a path to citizenship for some young undocumented immigrants.

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"We are having wonderful conversations," Representative Gutierrez says.

That more moderate tone from the GOP is what the November election has wrought.

In a postelection analysis and poll of Latino voters, Republican polling group Resurgent Republic offered a searing critique of the GOP's political strategy of pumping up turnout among white voters, often by championing hard-line policies on immigration issues that turn off key Asian and Hispanic voters.

"Republicans have run out of persuadable white voters," wrote conservative pollster Whit Ayres and Jennifer Korn, the head of the right-leaning Hispanic Leadership Network, in a recent research memo. "Trying to win a national election by gaining a larger and larger share of a smaller and smaller portion of the electorate is a losing political proposition."

Between 2008 and 2012, white voters shrank two percentage points to 72 percent of the electorate, while Asian and Latino voters expanded a percentage point each to 3 percent and 10 percent, respectively.

While GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney won 60 percent of white voters, 71 percent of Latinos and 73 percent of Asian-Americans backed Mr. Obama – up four percentage points and 11 percentage points from 2008, respectively.

And those numbers of minority voters are only going to grow. For the next two decades, 50,000 Latino voters will turn 18 every month, adding an additional New Hampshire of voters to the US each year into the 2030s.

While Resurgent Republic's poll showed that Hispanics aren't singularly focused on immigration issues, Republican politicians who favor immigration reform see the issue as primary: The GOP's message of conservative family values, entrepreneurship, and individual freedom won't reach Latino voters unless the immigration question is solved.

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Danny Bent poses at the starting line of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass.

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