Marco Rubio was direct about the biggest challenge he has as his comprehensive immigration reform bill is released this week. “It’s going to require a lot of communication,” said Rubio on a conference call with reporters Tuesday evening.
It was the understatement of the year from Rubio, who has worked for the last month with seven other senators, four Democrats and three fellow Republicans, on a compromise in three realms of immigration policy: modernization, enforcement, and legalization. Conservatives in the GOP, who effectively torpedoed the 2007 immigration proposal, will need to be convinced. But Rubio was quick to point out that the bill he and the rest of the “Gang of 8” are releasing is only the beginning of the process.
“All we’ve negotiated is a starting point,” Rubio said.
The modernization component, Rubio says, will be the “least controversial” and will consist mostly of creating visas for high-skilled immigrant labor—45,000 visas to be issued across 3 years. The enforcement reforms are designed to appeal particularly to conservatives who have concerns about border security. Rubio says this component includes a universal eVerify system to be adopted first by the largest companies; a universal “entry/exit system” that promises to more aggressively monitor the passports of those who enter the country in airports and at border crossings; and increased border security in the four states that border Mexico, which includes required benchmarks like a 90 percent apprehension rate for illegal crossers.
The part of the package that will require the most communication from Rubio to conservatives are its legalization elements. Rubio began by debunking what he called a myth with regard to the current immigration regime. Illegal immigrants living in the country already have a “path to citizenship,” he said, whereby those who return home can immigrate legally back to the U.S. in ten years and apply for a green card, the first step to citizenship. All the Gang of 8’s proposal does, Rubio argues, is make the path to a green card, and ultimately to citizenship, longer for those illegal immigrants who remain in the U.S., and it allows them to remain here legally and in the open.
If certain border security goals are met, illegal immigrants will be able to apply for a 6-year temporary work permit, which will incur a $500 fine and require a background check. After 6 years, immigrants can renew their permit, pay another $500 fine, and show proof of employment and taxes paid for the previous 6 years. If the remaining border security goals are met within 10 years of the law’s implementation, those immigrants who have paid their fines, passed the appropriate checks, and maintained employment will have the chance to apply for a green card, or permanent residency, through the regular channels that legal immigrants use now (albeit with an additional $1000 fine). After 3 years of having a green card, these immigrants will be able to apply for citizenship. Essentially, the bar for permanent residency and citizenship, Rubio said, should be higher if you are an illegal immigrant who remains in America.
The Florida Republican also reiterated that the bill should proceed through regular order in the Senate. “One of my principles is it should be an open process,” he said, indicating he would still walk away from the deal if this doesn’t happen.
Rubio dismissed the idea that the Senate is moving too quickly on the legislation, saying the proposal will have three to four weeks of committee hearings and debate before even the first amendment vote. He predicted the debate could go on into the summer and will be discussed enough within Congress and with the broader public by the time lawmakers will have to vote on a final bill.
“I think people will be a lot more familiar with this than anything else they vote on around here,” Rubio said.