Mitt Romney's defeat in the presidential race, caused in part by overwhelming Hispanic support for President Barack Obama, sent a clarion call to Republican elected officials that they must change -- or at least soften -- their tune on the hot-button issue of immigration.It is a complex, highly charged issue that often has been pushed to the back burner of American politics, moved to the front on occasion, and at times taken off the stove altogether.In the wake of the election, "meaningful immigration reform" is being talked about among members of both parties. If nothing more, some lawmakers say, Congress must address at least pieces of the colossal puzzle.Last week, Republican Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Jon Kyl of Arizona introduced a bill they call the "Achieve Act."It is similar to the Democrat-supported "Dream Act" legislation that would give legal status to hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants brought to the country as children.The major difference between the two proposed laws is that the Achieve Act does not grant a path to citizenship, an element likely to be at the center of dispute in several immigration plans.Republicans blocked passage of the Dream Act in 2010, although Obama this year bypassed Congress by issuing a policy to stop deporting some younger illegal immigrants and granting them work permits.The Hutchison and Kyl plan is significant in that it assures that both sides will have something on the table to talk about, to negotiate and perhaps -- dare we say it? -- hammer out a compromise.Even if that happened, it would be only one of many immigration policies that would have to be tackled to bring about the comprehensive immigration reform that many lawmakers and their constituents say they want.That won't be easy, because historically Democrats and Republicans have had very different approaches to the subject.Judging from the parties' adopted platforms this year, they are still very much at odds.The GOP's emphasis continues to be on securing the border, including building a double-layer border fence and mandating that all U.S. employers use the federal E-Verify system to confirm legal status of any new employees.The platform also calls for a guest worker program, opposes any forms of "amnesty" and would deny federal funding to universities that don't charge out-of-state tuition fees to illegal immigrant students.Democrats call for working, law-abiding, taxpaying undocumented workers to "have a path to earn full participation in America," and they want to hasten family reunification.They say halting short of that -- for instance, by establishing a guest worker program -- would set up "a massive new status of second-class workers."Reforming the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service into a more effective agency and punishing employers who exploit undocumented workers are also Democratic platform planks.The elephant in the room during immigration reform discussions is the 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants already here.Some Republicans prefer a system to encourage self-deportation and/or provide some legal status without citizenship, which means the immigrants would never become voters.Democrats have been far more lenient and would gladly accept those votes. Small surprise.The Nov. 6 election results -- not so much the fact that Obama won but the reasons for Romney's poor showing -- mean the timing is right for Congress to seriously talk about immigration reform.In addition to illegal immigration, lawmakers must also find solutions for the current backlog of citizenship applications.Outdated visa rules regarding who and how many can enter the United States, and what countries they can come from, also cry out for a new approach.Now that the issue has the attention of Congress, lawmakers must not let this opportunity slip away because of naive, emotional ideology or political cowardice.