In a furious show of support for the immigration reform bill he helped draft, Senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla., broke Sunday TV interview records by appearing on all five major English language networks and the two leading Spanish language stations. Rubio’s unrestrained endorsement of the Gang of Eight Senate immigration bill comes after weeks of hedging by the Senator and is seen as a green light for introduction of the bill, expected as early as Tuesday.
The Florida Senator spent much of his screen time Sunday arguing the legislation will be as restrictive as it is generous. He told CBS’s Face the Nation the bill includes the “toughest enforcement measures in the history of the United States, potentially in the world.”
Anticipating accusations by fellow Republicans that the reform legislation creates a new path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and that it amounts to “amnesty,” Rubio said that the bill will change nothing about existing routes to citizenship.
“What I’ve said in the past is that there is a pathway to citizenship, and that is the legal immigration system. And all this bill does is give people access to the legal immigration system,” Rubio said on NBC’s Meet the Press.
Current laws permit undocumented immigrants to apply for citizenship if they leave the country for ten years, though backlogs in the system ensure that many don’t outlive the wait times. How the legislation will clear existing green card backlogs is not clear.
The bill will include a ten-year provisional status visa for undocumented immigrants before they can apply for a green card. According to people familiar with the language and Rubio’s descriptions of its content, the journey to provisional status and ultimately toward citizenship will be a treacherous one.
“Quite frankly, it’ll be cheaper, faster and easier to leave and wait ten years than it will be to go through this process that we’ve designed,” Rubio told NBC.
The Gang of Eight legislation will exclude immigrants who arrived without papers after December 31, 2011, and is expected to allocate several billion dollars for additional border security.
It will also nationalize the e-verify system to stop private employers from hiring workers who lack employment authorization.
The bill is expected to include a $2000 application fee, with $500 to be paid upfront and the rest paid over the following ten years. Applicants will be required to pass strenuous background checks and, according to Rubio, must “be gainfully employed so that you are not a public charge.”
In interviews in Spanish Rubio repeated similar talking points though softened his framing of the path to citizenship.
“I don’t believe it would be good the country to have two statuses, two different types of people in the country,” he said on Univision’s Al Punto. “Obviously it will be difficult, but it will also be fair. People will have access to work, to travel and to be here legally, and ultimately, to apply for their residency…apply for citizenship.”