Democratic leaders in the U.S. Senate predicted Wednesday that there will be advances, albeit small ones, toward immigration reform in 2012, at a time when both they as well as President Barack Obama are trying to attract the support of the Hispanic electorate.

During a round table with several Hispanic media outlets, including Efe, the senators said that despite what they described as Republican obstructionism, there are possibilities for achieving advances on some elements of an immigration bill.

"My prediction is that 2012 will be better than 2011," New York Sen. Charles Schumer said.

The Republicans, in their judgment, are beginning to take note that their stances against any type of legalization of undocumented foreigners "is hurting them more than it's helping."

Schumer said that in his conversations with Republicans he had seen "little glimmers of change and hope," which the Democrats will try to take advantage of.

He said he was optimistic because, despite the fact that in the primaries the Republican hopefuls "are turning against immigration even more," that party's eventual presidential candidate "will have to move to the center" and his colleagues in Congress usually follow his lead.

Of the Republican hopefuls, only former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has come out in favor of legalizing those undocumented immigrants who have spent many years in this country.

According to analysts, the road to the White House in 2012 will require the support of at least 40 percent of Latino voters.

Activists say that Hispanics, the country's fastest-growing minority, are frustrated with the political class in Washington.

Undocumented immigrants, in particular, have seen a great increase in the number of deportations and in police measures seeking to stifle them economically, especially in the southern states.

It is not surprising that immigration reform - one of Obama's unfulfilled election promises - dominated Wednesday's meeting, despite the fact that it was called to deal with matters such as education, job creation and the extension of cuts in the payroll tax.

Reading from the same script, the eight senators tried to sell the idea that Obama deserves the support of Latinos in 2012, and they reiterated that the Republicans are just seeking to punish Hispanics.

Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey said that in the presidential debates the Republicans are using "punitive language" against immigrants and have not offered practical solutions for the 11-12 million undocumented people in the country.

There will not be any advances in immigration reform "at least until we have Republican support," said Menendez, whose reform bill has not prospered in the Senate.

During the Obama administration, the deportation of undocumented students who would benefit from the DREAM Act and immigrants without criminal records has been suspended, Menendez emphasized.

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