Republican nominee Mitt Romney adopted a hard line on the issue, suggesting that illegal immigrants "self-deport." The results of the general election forced many in the GOP to reconsider their position, especially after Obama captured an estimated 71 percent of the Hispanic vote in winning re-election.
Looking ahead to the next election, Republicans recognize the political drawbacks of a tough line on immigration, especially with growing Hispanic populations in Florida, California and Texas. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., the son of Cuban immigrants, worked on a bill last year that would have permitted young illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. with their parents to apply for non-immigrant visas.
It was a policy that Obama adopted.
Donohue acknowledged the difficulty in getting all parties to agree to legislation.
"You can demagogue this issue very easily," he said at a news conference following his speech.
Donohue's comments came as he detailed the chamber's priorities this year on federal spending, regulation and energy.