"The Republican Party must have a strategy to be competitive for the Latino voter or they will not sustain a majority for very long," said Rick Tyler, spokesman for former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich. "That's true in California, Texas and Florida and will become increasingly true in the country at large."
Land and Kinney said many conservatives opposed the bill in part because they are strongly against any future legalization of parents or other adults who knowingly broke the law. But some are receptive to relief for young people brought here as children, who have worked hard to excel and are culturally American, they said.
"They didn't bring themselves here, yet they worked their tail off to succeed," Kinney said of the undocumented students. "In discussions with other conservative Republicans, you do sense a sympathy for kids as long as you don't attach the parents or full citizenship" to any relief measure.
Barring the youth from any path to citizenship, as some conservatives propose, will probably be vehemently opposed by Democrats and immigrant advocates.
Meanwhile, the students say they will not give up.
"We're going to keep working hard, keep doing good in school and never lose hope," said Maria Duque, 19, the student body vice president at Fullerton College, who arrived with her parents from Ecuador when she was 5. "We know there will be another chance someday."
Other undocumented students, including UCLA drum major David Cho, said they needed time to recover from their deep disappointment over the Senate's action. Although some students vowed to fight on, Cho, who came to the U.S. from South Korea at 9, said he put his head on a friend's shoulder and cried.
"I know I can find what was in me again, but I need some time," Cho said. "That's what I learned from our struggle: It takes courage and time."
Special correspondent Diana Marcum contributed to this report.