"The band is back. Let's do immigration."
Those were the words Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said when he spoke with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on the Saturday after the presidential election in November. Graham had already talked to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and was eager to get the ball rolling on immigration reform.
Talks between the now public "gang of eight" senators and their staffs began quietly, while the nation was preoccupied with fiscal cliff negotiations. After a break for the holidays, the group met again last Wednesday and finalized their immigration framework over the weekend before taking it public on Monday morning.
Schumer and McCain laid out how their immigration plan took shape and where it's heading next during a Wednesday morning discussion led by Politico's Mike Allen.
While the exact details of the framework have yet to be agreed upon, the core principles are set. The group met on Tuesday evening in McCain's office to start tackling the parameters of how to measure border security, Schumer said. The meetings alternate between McCain's office and his, he added, as a sign of bipartisanship.
How to measure whether the border is secure, one of the prerequisites the gang named for putting the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country on a path to citizenship, will be critical, particularly for Republicans who have railed against Democrats for being soft on the issue.
"I've always been for [immigration reform,]" McCain said, "but I've always been concerned about border security, I think with good reason."
He said the group – they "hate" the word gang – has been looking at surveillance technological advancements in place in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan for insight on how to approach border security. Their staffs are meeting Wednesday with the Department of Homeland Security to discuss the issue.
The group also talked Tuesday night about how to go about giving citizenship to undocumented residents while still being fair to immigrants who came into the country legally.
Schumer said the gang plans to meet every Tuesday and Thursday, and their staffs will meet every Wednesday. The senators want to go through the committee process, he said, adding that the process has become all too rare in Congress.
He added that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said that he will make putting the bill on the upper chamber's floor a priority when the group is ready, likely this spring.
"This is going to be fragile," McCain said, adding that the group "will have to take tough votes" to keep a bill intact.
Schumer echoed that sentiment, and said he expects a bill to linger in floor deliberations for up to three or four weeks.
"I think we should have a full and robust debate," he said.
Both men said they recognize that they're not going to get unanimous agreement on such a contentious issue, but said getting as much Republican support in the Senate as possible will be crucial to any bill's passage in the House. McCain said that the group hopes to attract as many as 80 votes in the Senate, an ambitious goal.
While McCain said he has not spoken directly to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), he is encouraged by his support for the idea of immigration reform. He said the gang also "wants to work" with a group of House members currently discussing immigration reform.
Schumer lavished praise on McCain and the other Republican members of the gang, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)