By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-FL, and seven other Senators from both parties have released their plans to reform immigration. The White House has already supported the move, but Rubio and the other GOP members of the “Gang of Eight” must sell their plan to other members of their parties.
Current contention centers on amnesty. Some GOP lawmakers, such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, are convinced that Rubio’s plan — which provides a pathway to citizenship for young people, agricultural workers, and people with higher education — is a kind of amnesty program.
While the Houston Republican — the first Latino senator in Texas history — acknowledged “the good work that senators in both parties have put into trying to fix our broken immigration system,” he distanced himself from the pathway to citizenship that some critics called “amnesty.” (Cruz did not use that term.)
“I have deep concerns with the proposed path to citizenship,” he said. “To allow those who came here illegally to be placed on such a path is both inconsistent with rule of law and profoundly unfair to the millions of legal immigrants who waited years, if not decades, to come to America legally.”
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, one of the four GOP senators to author the bipartisan framework, dealt directly with Cruz’s concern during an interview last night with Fox Business Network’s Lou Dobbs.
“I’ve long shared the same concern and that’s why we’ve outlined it the way we have,” Rubio said of Cruz’s reservations. “What we do here for people that are undocumented is they have to come forward, undergo a background check, they have to pay fines and back taxes and so forth and then all they get is a temporary status basically, think of it as a probationary status, it allows them to stay in the country and work but they don’t qualify for any federal benefits, they can’t turn that into citizenship or anything else and they’re going to have to be in that status for a significant period of time. Significant enough so that it’s a disincentive to do it in the future for anybody.”
Rubio strongly argued that his “legalization” program would not hurt anyone who had followed the rules and waited in line for citizenship.
The White House, however, is not an equally tough sell.
The White House praised Republican Sen. Marco Rubio’s proposals for an overhaul of immigration policy and said they “bode well” for bipartisan action early in President Barack Obama’s second term.
Obama “expects to move very quickly on immigration after the inauguration,” press secretary Jay Carney told reporters. The president is expected to lay out some principles on the issue in his Feb. 12 State of the Union speech.
“The reports about Sen. Rubio’s ideas bode well for a productive bipartisan debate,” Carney said. “We hope that it signals a change in the Republican approach to this issue, because if we are going to get this done it’s going to take more than just a handful of Republicans working across the aisle.”
Carney also pointed out that the Gang of Eight’s plan “closely reflects the president’s blueprint for reform”:
The centerpiece of Rubio’s proposal—his plan to handle the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants who are already here—is strikingly similar to the plan Obama described it in 2011. Rubio told the Journal that undocumented immigrants in the US would need clean records, and that they would have to “pay a fine, pay back taxes, maybe even do community service. They would have to prove they’ve been here for an extended period of time. They understand some English and are assimilated. Then most of them would get legal status and be allowed to stay in this country.” Eventually, the Journal says, Rubio’s proposal would allow undocumented immigrants to apply for citizenship.
All of Rubio’s immigration reform criteria—fines, back taxes, proof of residence, background checks, and learning English—are part of Obama’s plan. The Journal describes Rubio as “charging up the middle” on immigration, even as the Florida Republican rides next to the president. And Rubio’s big idea isn’t much different in substance from what immigration reform advocates want.
The fact that Rubio’s proposal contains White House-backed ideas will make it saleable to Democrats. This is the closest thing we’ve seen to what immigration reform might look like.