Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-lll.) have both expressed interest in working together on a bill to help the children of illegal immigrants, but the political climate makes any possible deal a long shot.
“Sen. Durbin, as I have said consistently, is someone who is looking for a solution not a political talking point,” Rubio said last week.
Durbin, known for making impassioned Senate floor speeches about high-achieving students brought to the United States as children whose futures are jeopardized by their immigration status, has spent the past 11 years pushing legislation establishing a path to citizenship for such people, known as the DREAM Act.
“I understand he prefers his bill, but ultimately, from everything I have dealt with him on, he is somebody who has a legitimate interest in finding a solution, and I think if we can show a path to getting something like this done, he would be a willing partner, at least I am hopeful,” said Rubio, who is working on his own proposal.
Durbin and other Senate Democratic leaders, including Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), are open to working with Rubio, but they want to see the legislation before opining on it, aides said.
“We want to see what he is proposing in writing,” Durbin said. “I am assuming that he is approaching this in good faith, and I believe he wants to help. So I am open to any bipartisan effort.”
Rubio has been reaching out recently to interested parties, including the House Congressional Hispanic Caucus, advocacy groups and others, though he has not met formally with Durbin. However, more meetings are expected after the recess, Rubio’s office said.
Some Democrats are skeptical of Rubio’s efforts and see his bill as an attempt by Republicans to try to curry favor with Latino voters as the GOP presidential primary winds down.
Some also see it as him trying to burnish his reputation among Hispanics in case presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney chooses Rubio as his running mate.
“I’ve looked at his ideas, and at this point, I don’t know if it’s a political lifeline or something that seriously should be considered,” said Rep. Ed Pastor (D-Ariz.), who added that it is unclear, at best, whether such legislation could get through either chamber.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who once worked with the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) on immigration reform legislation, said he’s encouraged by Rubio’s plan but wants to see more details.
“We all know immigration reform has to happen, the question is how,” McCain said.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) did not give Rubio’s plan much of a chance to get through the House.
“The problem with this issue is we’re operating in a very hostile political environment, and to deal with a very difficult issue like this, I think, it would be difficult at best,” Boehner said last week.
Nevertheless, Rubio is focused on drafting a bill that solves the problem, earns bipartisan support and can pass this year, according to a Rubio aide.
While Rubio is still drafting his measure, he is aiming to have the legislation ready by summer, if not earlier, in time for high school students to go to college, the aide said.
A senior Democratic aide said “the closer we get to the election, the more likely this is not a serious proposal.”
The bill is expected to be a variation of Durbin’s DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for some illegal immigrants who agree to go to college or join the military.
However, Rubio said his bill would not create a “special path to citizenship, but we don’t prohibit citizenship.”
“Under the concept that we are developing, they would receive a non-immigrant visa, which would allow them to stay in this country legally, work, go to school, as long as they continue to renew that visa,” Rubio said. “At some point in the future, they would not be prohibited from doing what any other non-immigrant visa holder could do, and that is to try to become a green card holder by going through the regular process of legal immigration.”
Whether it allows a path to citizenship could be a sticking point with Democrats, who see citizenship as key to their effort to help the children of immigrants.
“We are not going to negotiate one form of limbo for another,” a senior Democratic aide said.
“Our goal is to have a solution for kids who come here through no fault of their own,” Rubio said, adding, “I think the proposal we are coming up with is one that I hope will have support. I have never asked the DREAM Act advocates to abandon the DREAM Act. I understand they prefer it. But I think we are going to offer something that could be a solution that doesn’t exacerbate or make worse the illegal immigration problem.”
Daniel Newhauser contributed to this report.