WASHINGTON – Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., appeared on seven television shows Sunday to defend the immigration bill being written by four Republican and four Democratic senators.
Rubio said the draft legislation provides 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.
“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.”
“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 possible Republican presidential candidate, is considered to be the best chance the group has of selling the compromise to conservatives.
He said that for immigrants who entered the country illegally to earn legal status, they will have to pass criminal background checks, 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 won’t qualify for food stamps or federal medical benefits during that time.
“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.”
Rubio said Senate staff members were drafting the bill and he hoped to be able to talk in more detail about its provisions this week. He said he looked forward to considering amendments from the 92 senators not involved in writing the bill, but said he would oppose any amendments designed to kill it.
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 percent surveillance of the Southwest border and stop 90 percent 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, 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.”
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.”