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Senator Marco Rubio defends immigration deal

GOP senator stresses security, toughness in bill

Florida Senator Marco Rubio made the rounds on the Sunday talk-show circuit to press the case for the bipartisan immigration overhaul bill being written by eight senators.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Florida Senator Marco Rubio made the rounds on the Sunday talk-show circuit to press the case for the bipartisan immigration overhaul bill being written by eight senators.

WASHINGTON — Senator Marco Rubio, who is among the eight senators writing an immigration overhaul bill due to come out Tuesday, gave a spirited defense of the bipartisan deal on Sunday and insisted that it would not amount to an amnesty.

The Florida Republican said in a round of appearances on the Sunday news shows that the emerging legislation would have tough enforcement provisions and strict penalties for those who came to the United States illegally or overstayed their visit.

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Though the deal does include a long and difficult process for the 11 million individuals in question, Rubio said the proposal does not include an amnesty provision that fellow conservatives have called a deal-breaker.

‘‘We’re not awarding anybody anything. All we’re doing is giving people the opportunity to eventually earn access to our new, improved, and modernized legal immigration system,’’ said Rubio, a Cuban-American.

But among some of his fellow Republicans, there are serious doubts.

‘‘I’m not convinced,’’ said Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama. ‘‘I know Senator Rubio’s heart is exactly right. And I really respect the work of the ‘Gang of Eight.’ But they have produced legislation . . . that will give amnesty now, legalize everyone that’s here effectively today and then there’s a promise of enforcement in the future.’’

Senator Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, added: ‘‘The pathway to citizenship, right now, before those other elements are in place, is the deal-breaker for me.’’

He said he could consider supporting the proposal only if the first priority were border security.

Rubio said he would abandon the overhaul effort if enforcement, border security, and other elements are softened to his dissatisfaction.

With an eye on a possible White House run in 2016, Rubio has been careful not to appear weak on border security or create political problems among the conservatives who have great sway in picking the GOP’s nominee.

Rubio also said it might be better for immigrants to return to their home countries and start the process from scratch. ‘‘So I would argue that the existing law is actually more lenient, that going back and waiting 10 years is going to be cheaper and faster than going through this process that we are outlining,’’ he said.

Rubio pressed his case during interviews on ABC’s ‘‘This Week,’’ CBS’s ‘‘Face the Nation,’’ CNN’s ‘‘State of the Union’’, ‘‘Fox News Sunday,’’ and NBC’s ‘‘Meet the Press.’’ He also appeared on the Spanish-language networks Telemundo and Univision.

Other lawmakers helping to write the legislation acknowledged the political challenges of the issue.

‘‘A lot of my conservative colleagues have significant questions, and they’re legitimate,’’ Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said on CNN. ‘‘This is the start of a process, this is a vehicle that requires hearings, requires input, and we welcome all of that. . . . I am guardedly optimistic that we will see finally the end of this long, long trek that a lot of us have been on for many years.’’

The measure would put millions who are in the United States illegally on a 13-year path to citizenship, while toughening border security requirements, mandating that all employers check the legal status of workers, and allowing tens of thousands of new high- and low-skilled workers into the country.

The legislation is expected to include a new emphasis on merit-based immigration over family ties.

‘‘This is a very balanced bill. The American people have told us to do two things: one, prevent future flows of illegal immigration; and then, come up with a common-sense solution for legal immigration. And that’s what our bill does,’’ Senator Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said on the ABC program.

All this, however, is contingent on the border security and enforcement, Rubio said.

‘‘If you are undocumented here now, if you are illegally in the US, you can’t even apply for this until these plans are in place and they begin to implement them,’’ Rubio said. ‘‘And then you’re going to have to pay a fine. You’re going to have to pay an application fee. You’re going to have to pass a background check.’’

Without those pieces, the path to citizenship is unavailable, and the proposal is available only for those who arrived in the United States before Dec. 31, 2011. Anyone who came after that date would be subject to deportation.

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