Rubio floats new path to citizenship for millions

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is assigning himself a tall task: creating conservative consensus on a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, and pooling knowledge among local governments and U.S. agencies to foolproof American border security–with ???significant progress??? to be made in the first half of this year.

The Republican rising star, who spoke with Human Events on Monday, is plotting his second foray into immigration reform. Prior to the election, Rubio floated a Republican alternative to the DREAM Act that got a mixed reception within his own party, and was ultimately overshadowed by President Barack Obama???s executive order granting some 1.7 million young illegal immigrants a stay from deportation and temporary authorization to work in the country.

Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, opted to support a more mainstream conservative plan for immigration in his rhetoric–the concept of self-deportation, entailing robust enforcement of citizenship requirements for work and participation in other elements of American civil society.

But the election left no ambiguity about the Hispanic community???s view of this approach: Latino voters supported Obama over Romney by a margin of 71 percent .

Rubio said the GOP???s need to connect with Hispanic voters was part of his new approach to immigration policy, though not the whole story.

???There are political ramifications to this, there???s no doubt about it,??? he said. ???But I don???t think they mean that all of a sudden we???re going to get 50 percent of the Hispanic vote. I do think there is a large number of Hispanic voters who are open to free enterprise and conservatism…and because of this issue, it???s been difficult to communicate with them.???

Rubio???s new proposal still risks being classified as amnesty by not requiring the deportation of the eight to 12 million immigrants illegally within U.S. borders. But citizenship for these immigrants won???t be easy and takes no shortcuts, he said. Undocumented U.S. residents who come forward would be assessed taxes and a fine and maybe other penalties, and undergo criminal and national security background checks, Rubio said. Then, they would receive legal status and a work permit, and enter a lengthy probationary period for the chance to apply for U.S. citizenship.

There???s no line-jumping in this plan, and no special perks for those who enter the country illegally, said Rubio.

???When their turn comes up, they???re going to have to qualify through an existing visa program, not a special one,??? he said. ???For a lot of these people, they???re going to be waiting for a very long time to become a citizen, but there???s a process.???

Rubio said improved citizenship verification requirements in the workplace would do the job of flushing out undocumented workers already in the system and pushing them toward this lengthy and arduous citizenship process.

???We have better technology than we do five years ago,??? Rubio said.

In the next six months, Rubio said he hopes to lay the groundwork for a bill that will win bipartisan support and consensus within the Republican party by having broad conversations with Senate leaders and holding public hearings to discuss the ramifications of the problem. Understanding goals and consensus on the big ideas will be the key to avoiding partisan pile-up, he said.

???The process by which we come up with a solution is as important as the solution itself,??? he said. ???There should be no ???take it or leave it??? proposition. That???s what doomed the effort in 2007 or 2005.???

But though some consider immigration one of the most divisive issues for the Republican party, Rubio believes that 90 percent of his reform ideas will gain quick support from his own party and from across the aisle.

???I think there are voices in American politics that are really not going to support anything that we come up with, and that???s their right,??? he said. ???Those on the left have unrealistic expectations, or frankly have made the calculus that this issue is best left unresolved.???

Meanwhile, Rubio plans to push for comprehensive improvements to border security, a process that he acknowledges will take years, hundreds of millions of dollars at last estimate, and cooperation of multiple U.S. agencies, local governments of border states, and even the Mexican government.

???In addition to being a sovereignty issue for our country, this should be an issue that the Mexicans want, and do want,??? he said.