WASHINGTON -- Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) blitzed the airwaves Sunday to defend the immigration bill being written by four Republican and four Democratic senators.
Speaking on seven news shows -- including two Spanish-language broadcasts -- Rubio said the draft legislation lays out a way for those in the country unlawfully to apply for legal status, includes stiff penalties for breaking the law and will make the country’s border more secure than ever before.
“I just hope that I can convince people that leaving things the way they are now is much worse than approaching it the way we’ve outlined,” Rubio said on ABC News’ “This Week With George Stephanopoulos.”
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“We’re not awarding anything.” Rubio said on Fox News Sunday.
Rubio, who was elected on a wave of tea party support and is a GOP presidential hopeful, is considered to be the best chance the group has of selling the compromise to conservatives.
He said that in order for immigrants who entered the country illegally to earn legal status, they will have to pass a criminal background check, prove they are gainfully employed and pay a penalty. Immigrants with this probationary status will have to wait 10 years before applying for permanent residency, he said, and during that time, they won’t qualify for food stamps or federal medical benefits.
"It will be cheaper, faster and easier for people to go back home and wait 10 years than [go through] this process. That's why it's not amnesty," Rubio said. "If somehow being in the country illegally is cheaper, easier and quicker than the right way, I wouldn't support that," he said.
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Rubio said that Senate staff members were drafting the bill and that he hoped to be able to talk in more detail about the provisions this week. He said he looked forward to considering amendments from the 92 other senators who have not been involved in writing the bill, but said he would oppose any amendments designed to kill the effort.
Rubio outlined three parts of the bill designed to improve border security. The provisions would have to be implemented before immigrants with probationary status could apply for permanent residency. Employers would be required to use a federal verification database before hiring workers, a new exit visa system would track when visitors overstayed their visas, and technology would be put in place to provide 100% surveillance of the Southwest border and stop 90% of the people who attempt to cross illegally.
“All three have to happen,” he said. Under the bill, the Department of Homeland Security would have five years to accomplish the border security goals. If it fails to do so in that time frame, an independent border commission would be given funding and authority to complete the task in the following five years, he said.
Once the measures in the bill are put into place, Rubio said, “we will have the most effective enforcement system this country has ever had.”
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Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, however, said the security measures should come before immigrants can apply for probationary legal status, not after.
“When the Gang of Eight was first formed a publicly stated principle was the enforcement would come first — before legalization," Sessions said in a statement. "Today, on the Sunday shows, Gang of Eight members admitted that they abandoned this principle and that, in fact, legalization — or amnesty — would come first."
Speaking after Rubio’s appearance on Fox News Sunday, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, said on the broadcast he was encouraged by what the group has agreed on.
“Border security is absolutely critical to this picture,” said Cornyn, adding that he wanted to read the bill before he decided whether to support it. “So much of it is restoring public confidence that the government is actually doing its job,” he said. If the bill doesn’t restore confidence in border security, he said, he will “have a hard time supporting it.”
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), one of the eight senators writing the bill, said there would have to be some flexibility built into how border security is measured so that it doesn’t derail the whole process. Durbin said that there will be more investment in border security, but emphasized how much has already been done.
“Our border with Mexico is the safest and strongest it’s been in 40 years,” Durbin said, adding that the government is now putting more money into border enforcement than into the budgets of the FBI, the ATF and the DEA combined.
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