Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan Move Toward Comprehensive Immigration Reform

January 14, 2013 12:27 p.m.

Two of the GOP’s brightest stars are publicly backing a broad vision for comprehensive immigration reform, lending possible momentum to the White House’s efforts to pass a bill this year.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is currently working with a group of Republicans and Democrats in the Senate to craft legislation, but until recently avoided calls for a broad immigration bill that would grant a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Instead, he suggested a series of smaller bills, an idea that Democrats and the White House have long dismissed as a nonstarter. But over the weekend, Rubio told the Wall Street Journal that while he still prefers a series of bills, his broader plan resembles the general framework favored by most Democrats and immigration reformers: a path to citizenship, increased visas for high-tech workers, a system for bringing in temporary agricultural workers, and a crackdown on employers who hire undocumented workers.It’s all still very vague and the White House and Senate have yet to produce a specific bill of their own to compare it to. But while Rubio stressed that his plan “is not blanket amnesty or a special pathway to citizenship,” he made clear that the legislation he had in mind would strive to ensure that the undocumented population is not left in legal limbo indefinitely. Given that Rubio has toyed with bills that might have stopped short of citizenship before, this is a significant move. And the types of requirements he mentioned might be necessary to gain permanent residency and eventually citizenship — such as passing a criminal background check, paying a fine and back taxes — sounded largely in line with Democratic proposals. Should he abandon his insistence on passing legislation in a series of bills, there may not be a ton of distance between him and Senate Democrats.

“It’s not good for our country to have people trapped in this status forever,” Rubio said. “It’s been a disaster for Europe.”

In another significant development, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), announced on Facebook that he agreed with Rubio’s proposal. The House is expected to be a tough sell for immigration reform and Ryan, who recently told a leading pro-immigration Democrat that he’s interested in reform, could prove an important leader if he fully embraces the Senate’s efforts at a bipartisan compromise.

“Senator Rubio is exactly right on the need to fix our broken immigration system,” Ryan wrote. “I support the principles he’s outlined: modernization of our immigration laws; stronger security to curb illegal immigration; and respect for the rule of law in addressing the complex challenge of the undocumented population. Our future depends on an immigration system that works.”

As potential 2016 presidential candidates, Ryan or Rubio have plenty to lose if immigration reform falls through and sparks another backlash among Latino voters akin to 2012. But taking on a leadership role in the debate is dangerous territory as well, potentially opening up their right flanks to attacks in a GOP primary. Mitt Romney, who chose Ryan as his running mate, savaged rival Rick Perry in 2012 for supporting immigration reforms in Texas that were far less significant than anything Rubio discussed in the Wall Street Journal story.

This post has been updated.

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