Sen. Marco Rubio sought to reassure conservatives Sunday that the bipartisan immigration bill he and seven other senators are expecting to unveil on Tuesday would not provide “amnesty” for the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants thought to be living in the United States.
“This is not blanket amnesty,” the Florida Republican said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “It’s not amnesty because you pay serious consequences for having violated the law.”
Rubio hopscotched across all the major Sunday talk shows, appearing on NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, CNN and Univision, to pitch the anticipated legislation.
The bipartisan Senate group is expected to unveil a massive overhaul of immigration laws that would put undocumented immigrants on a decade-long path to citizenship while also beefing up border security, putting tough employer verification in place and strengthening the entry and exit system.
Critics have accused the group of rewarding people who broke the law when they entered the country illegally. But Rubio said under current law immigrants living in the United States illegally can still apply for visas if they agree to leave the country for up to 10 years.
The group’s bill would remove the requirement that applicants leave the country but force them to wait longer and pay more in fines and fees in order to apply for a green card.
“All we’ve done here is to create an alternative to that that is longer, more expensive and more difficult to navigate,” he said on ABC’s This Week. “It would actually be cheaper if they went back home, waited 10 years and applied for a green card.”
Rubio countered critics by saying the current situation is “de facto amnesty” because lax enforcement has led to waves of illegal immigration. The only people who benefit from the current system, he said, are human traffickers and abusive employers who undercut wages by hiring unauthorized workers.
The bill would grant undocumented immigrants a provisional legal status within a few months, allowing them to live and work in the country. Then, it would require that the government apprehend 90 percent of border crossers, impose employment verification measures to ensure that only legal residents get jobs and get a better count of the people in the country on expired visas.
Once those “triggers” are met, Rubio said, people on provisional status can apply for green cards.
“They will have to stay in that status until at least 10 years elapse and those triggers are met,” he said, adding that immigrants would not be eligible for any federal benefits during that time.
Other members of the Senate group said they were confident the bill would appeal to their colleagues and would find broad support nationwide.
“This is a very balanced bill. The American people have told us to do two things: one, prevent future flows of illegal immigrants and then come up with a commonsense solution to legal immigration. This is what our bill does,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., a member of the group, on ABC’s This Week. “Every significant disagreement among the eight of us is resolved.”
But the group is still preparing to protect the legislation from amendments that could weaken it or kill it altogether.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.