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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Rubio proposal calls for legal status for millions of illegal immigrants that could lead to citizenship



Sen. Marco Rubio outlines an immigration proposal for the Wall Street Journal, providing more detail than he has before on a sensitive issue. As for the toughest and most controversial part of the debate -- what to do with the more than 11 million people living in the U.S. illegally -- the Florida Republican calls for allowing them to gain legal status that could lead to citizenship.

The plan is essentially a much broader form of his Dream Act alternative. His youth-focused idea was released but drew considerable heat from the right as "amnesty" and push back from the left as a half-measure -- a sign of things to come.

Rubio insists his new idea is not amnesty and does not provide a special pathway to citizenship, but the plan does put people on a path to become citizens. From the story: "Assuming they haven't violated any of the conditions of that status," he says, the newly legalized person could apply for permanent residency, possibly leading to citizenship, after some years—but Mr. Rubio doesn't specify how many years.

Rubio spokesman Alex Conant told the Buzz that the proposal is not yet on paper. By floating details now, Rubio clearly is trying to get ahead of President Obama, who plans to release a plan this month or next.

Below is taken from Journal. (read complete story here)

  • Any overhaul, he says, needs to "modernize" legal immigration. America caps the number of visas for skilled workers and favors the relatives of people already here. "I'm a big believer in family-based immigration," he says. "But I don't think that in the 21st century we can continue to have an immigration system where only 6.5% of people who come here, come here based on labor and skill. We have to move toward merit and skill-based immigration."
  • He says the U.S. can either change the ratio of preferences for family-based immigration or raise the hard cap on people who bring investment or skills into the country. He prefers the latter, noting that the U.S. doesn't produce enough science, math and engineering graduates to fill the open posts in high-tech. He says this number can be adjusted to demand: "I don't think there's a lot of concern in this country that we'll somehow get overrun by Ph.D.s and entrepreneurs."
  • At the other end of the skill and wage scale, most of the 1.6 million agricultural laborers in America are Hispanics, the bulk of them illegal immigrants. American produce couldn't be picked without them. The number and type of visas provided through a guest-worker program would have to be sufficient to address this pressing need. From Georgia to Washington state in recent seasons, unpicked fruits and vegetables have rotted in the fields. He'd look to increase the number of visas for permanent or seasonal farm workers. "The goal is to give American agriculture a reliable work force and to give protection to these workers as well," Mr. Rubio says. "When someone is [undocumented] they're vulnerable to being exploited."
  • Initially, the illegal migrants now in the U.S. would mostly "avail themselves" of the guest-worker system, says Mr. Rubio. "Just the process to come here to legally work in agriculture is very difficult and very expensive. It doesn't work well. So that alone encourages illegal immigration."
  • Politically hardest is the question of the up to 12 million illegals currently here. Mr. Rubio's proposal allows for adults who overstayed their visa or sneaked in to come into the open."Here's how I envision it," he says. "They would have to come forward. They would have to undergo a background check." Anyone who committed a serious crime would be deported. "They would be fingerprinted," he continues. "They would have to pay a fine, pay back taxes, maybe even do community service. They would have to prove they've been here for an extended period of time. They understand some English and are assimilated. Then most of them would get legal status and be allowed to stay in this country." The special regime he envisions is a form of temporary limbo. "Assuming they haven't violated any of the conditions of that status," he says, the newly legalized person could apply for permanent residency, possibly leading to citizenship, after some years—but Mr. Rubio doesn't specify how many years. He says he would also want to ensure that enforcement has improved before opening that gate. The waiting time for a green card "would have to be long enough to ensure that it's not easier to do it this way than it would be the legal way," he says. "But it can't be indefinite either. I mean it can't be unrealistic, because then you're not really accomplishing anything. It's not good for our country to have people trapped in this status forever. It's been a disaster for Europe."
  • Mr. Rubio repeatedly says his plan "is not blanket amnesty or a special pathway to citizenship." The illegals wouldn't jump any lines, "they'd get behind everybody who came before them." No one would be asked to leave the country to qualify, but the requirements he sets out merely to get a working permit are "significant." "In an ideal world we wouldn't have eight, 10 million people who are undocumented," he says. "We have to address this reality. But we have to do it in a way that's responsible."
  • Mr. Rubio makes an exception for the over one million younger illegals. Along the lines of the Dream Act that stalled in Congress last year, he says people who came here unlawfully with their parents should be accommodated "in a more expedited manner than the rest of the population" to gain a way to naturalize.


[Last modified: Friday, January 11, 2013 9:45pm]


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