Triggers vital for path to citizenship, Rubio says
(CNN) — A bipartisan bill revamping America's immigration system, set to be unveiled later this week, will contain three policy steps that must be taken before undocumented workers currently in the United States are allowed to apply for legal status, one of the measure's architects said Sunday.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, said the "triggers" embedded in the bill are a necessary step to ensure real reforms are implemented that discourage immigrants from coming into the country illegally.
"If we don't do enforcement, if enforcement is not a part of this, and if we don't modernize legal immigration, if we don't do all of these things, then we're going to be right back here in 10 years having the same conversation -- and that would be the worst outcome," Rubio told chief political correspondent Candy Crowley on CNN's "State of the Union."
The bipartisan "Gang of Eight" will formally announce its plan for comprehensive immigration reform on Tuesday. Included in the package is an agreement on a path to citizenship that would affect the nearly 11 million undocumented residents currently in the U.S.
It would take 10 years for undocumented workers to get a green card, and then another three years to gain citizenship. Along the way, undocumented workers would have to pay a fine and back taxes and pass a background check. The size of the fine remains unclear.
But that pathway to citizenship would remain contingent on three "triggers," which Rubio described Sunday: forming an "e-verify" system for employers to check the legal status of workers; tracking immigrants both entering and leaving the country; and bolstering border security, which Rubio specified would "include fencing."
"All of these things are going to happen because they are triggers, triggers for the green card process that we are laying out in our proposal," Rubio said. "That is the incentive to ensure they happen. In essence, for those who are undocumented in this country, not only will they have to wait 10 years, more than 10 years, they will have to wait until all three of those things are fully implemented. If they are not implemented, there will be no green cards awarded. We think that will be an incentive."
That stands in opposition to past positions of President Barack Obama, who has said tying a pathway to citizenship to strengthening border security could delay the process for the millions of undocumented workers living in the U.S. The White House has also argued that the U.S. border is currently the most secure it's ever been.
Rubio admitted Sunday the plan was at odds with Obama's position, but noted the Senate bill had been shaped by both Democrats and Republicans.
"A bipartisan group of senators agree that should be the trigger, and hopefully we can pass a bill that has that in there," he said. "And if we do, he'll have a decision to make about whether to sign it or not. But it has to be a part of it, otherwise it won't happen."
Rubio will also have some convincing to do among some fellow Republicans, who worry a bill that includes any pathway to citizenship would be construed as "amnesty" for undocumented immigration currently living in the United States.
He said he could justify "every aspect of the bill" to conservatives, noting he held many of the same positions in the past.
"I think part of my job is to explain to people what it is we worked on, to try to justify it and hopefully gain their support. That's what I look forward to doing," he said.
"We can try to address it in a way that's responsible and humane, in a way that isn't unfair to the people that are doing it the right way, and doesn't encourage people to do it in the wrong way in the future," he continued. "And that's what we've arrived at, and I hope to be able to convince people it's the right approach."