Senator Marco Rubio, the Republican point man for immigration reform, on Sunday expressed support for a long and arduous path to citizenship for the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Appearing in a string of Sunday talk shows, Rubio appeared keen to reassure more hardline Republicans opposed to giving “amnesty” to illegal immigrants, promising tighter border security and a sharp uphill climb to citizenship.
Rubio, a Cuban-American seen as a possible 2016 White House candidate, said many immigrants would not qualify, and that those who did would have to pay taxes and fines and wait more than a decade before applying for citizenship.
Even then, the path to citizenship would be tied to a major increase in border security, with a stepped up verification system to track individuals who overstay their visas and prevent undocumented immigrants from finding work.
“We’re not awarding anything, all we’re giving people the opportunity to eventually do is gain access to the same legal immigration system… that will be available to everybody else,” Rubio told ABC News’s “This Week.”
“The alternative we’ve created is going to be longer, more expensive and more difficult to navigate… It would actually be cheaper if they went back home, wait 10 years and apply for a green card,” he said.
“In exchange for all of that, we are going to get the toughest enforcement measures in the history of this country. We are going to secure the border to the extent that’s possible.”
Rubio has been working with a bipartisan so-called Gang of Eight senators hoping to enact the most sweeping immigration reform in a quarter-century.
Republicans long opposed to “amnesty” have softened their position in the wake of their defeat in the 2012 election, when the Hispanic vote swung overwhelmingly in favour of President Barack Obama’s Democrats.
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