Freshman Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) outlined a proposal for immigration reform recently in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, arguing that immigration is a key issue to Hispanic voters, a voting bloc that the Republican party lost ground with in the 2012 election.   Rubio, the son of a Cuban immigrant, a tea party favorite, and a rising star in the GOP ranks, said “we need legal immigration.  It is good for our country, but we also have a right to have immigration laws, and as a sovereign country, to enforce those laws. We have a problem.  Our legal immigration system is antiquated.”

Rubio said he would like to propose a comprehensive package of bills, including a pathway to citizenship, increased access for high-skilled workers, and a guest worker program for low-skilled workers, including farm workers.  He also emphasized enforcement, including improving the infrastructure at the border and operational control of the border, as well as workplace enforcement, “whether that’s e-verify or something else that works.”

Rubio’s view of a “pathway to citizenship” would require those illegally in the United States to come forward; pay fines for being illegal; undergo a background check for national security and crimes; pay any back taxes owed; be in the country for a significant period of time; and speak English.  Once that process has been successfully completed, the individual would be issued a work permit–a legal status to allow them to work but not to be eligible to qualify for social security or any other federal benefits.  A second phase would then be triggered allowing the opportunity to apply for the existing legal immigration system, Rubio outlined to the Wall Street Journal.

His outline has upset some within his own party, who have suggested that a pathway to citizenship would be tantamount to amnesty for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States, unless the immigrants are required to first leave the country.  But, Rubio said his plan for the group “is not blanket amnesty or a special pathway to citizenship. Instead, they would have to get in line to apply for legal status and adhere to challenging requirements but no immigrant would have to leave to return to their home country to start the process.”

Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) came out in support of Rubio’s general proposal, saying “Senator Rubio is exactly right on the need to fix our broken immigration system. I support the principle  he’s outlined; modernization of our immigration laws, stronger security to curb illegal immigrants, 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.”

A second-term, vigorous push for immigration reform by President Obama is expected, and the president has said recently that he “wants a pathway to citizenship” for the undocumented but details about the latest plan from the White House are scarce at this point.  White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said this week in a daily briefing that Rubio’s proposals “bode well for a productive, bipartisan debate” on immigration and hoped other Republicans followed suit.

However, despite Carney’s modest positive assessment,  President Obama and Rubio remain unlikely allies who have yet to have a discusson on immigration.  “There’s not much expectation that the White House will partner with Republicans on this,” said a Rubio spokeman.  “They haven’t partnered with Republicans on anything.  We’ve been working with our Senate colleagues on this.”