Days before a bipartisan immigration bill is scheduled to be presented, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida argued this morning on "This Week" that a key provision of the bill, the so-called "pathway to citizenship" for undocumented immigrants, would not give anything away and said it would in fact be cheaper for undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. to become citizens if they left the country first and then applied for legal status.
"All we've done here is create an alternative to that that they can access, and the alternative we've created is going to be longer, more expensive and more difficult to navigate," Rubio said this morning on "This Week." "It will actually be cheaper if they went back home, waited 10 years, and applied for a green card. And so, secondly, we've not awarding anything. All we're giving people the opportunity to eventually do is gain access to the same legal immigration system, the same legal immigration process that will be available to everybody else."
Rubio, who is seen as a key figure holding the bipartisan Senate group known as the "Gang of Eight" together, said that some of the undocumented immigrants currently in the country would not be eligible to seek legal status under the bill.
"I think it's important to understand it does not give anything. It allows people access to the legal immigration system," Rubio said. "Number two, some people won't qualify. They haven't been here long enough; they've committed very serious crimes. They won't be able to stay. Number three is all people will get is an opportunity to apply for things, to apply for a legal status, which isn't awarded on day one… The only thing you are earning here is an opportunity to apply for temporary status, and ultimately, potentially to apply for a green card, the way everybody else does. And that's the process that we are outlining."
But Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said on "This Week" that he was "not convinced" that the proposed legislation would not result in amnesty for immigrants who came here illegally, and that it would fail to enforce border security.
"I know Senator Rubio's heart is exactly right. And I really respect the work of the "Gang of Eight," Sessions said. "But they have produced legislation, it appears… that will give amnesty now, legalize everyone that's here effectively today and then there's a promise of enforcement in the future."
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Rubio's fellow "Gang of Eight" member, countered that their proposed bill was balanced between border enforcement and creating a process for legalization.
"This is a very balanced bill," Schumer said. "The American people have told us to do two things. One, prevent future flows of illegal immigration and then, come up with a common sense solution for legal immigration. And that's just what our bill does."
Schumer said the group is "very, very close" to a final proposal, which is scheduled to be presented on Tuesday.
"I think you'll see a major agreement that's balanced but fair, that will have the widespread support of the American people on Tuesday," Schumer said. "The eight of us have met in the middle. And I think that's where the American people are."
ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl also asked the Florida senator about the Senate vote Thursday that overcame a Republican filibuster to allow debate to proceed on possible gun legislation. Rubio slammed a plan being supported by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania that would expand background checks.
"Criminals don't care about the laws that we pass with regards to guns. They never follow the law. That's why they're criminals," Rubio said. "Look, here is the bottom line. I think everyone is in favor of any law that could effectively keep criminals or dangerous people from getting access to guns. The problem is that all these laws that people are discussing will not effectively deal with that problem, but will infringe on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens. And so, what we need to look for is a compromise that actually accomplishes that, that does not infringe or place additional burdens on law-abiding citizens, and in fact is effective at keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people, and that begins by enforcing it."
Rubio went on to say that the country has missed a "golden opportunity" to discuss the problem of violence in our society.
"This debate about guns, we are missing a golden opportunity to have the real debate we should be having, and that is a debate about violence," Rubio said. "Guns are what they're using to commit the violence, but the problem is violence, and no one is focusing on why this society has become so violent, why young people in America are committing these horrifying acts, and we are missing a golden opportunity to discuss that, and not simply just focus on gun laws that only law-abiding people will follow."
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