William Katz:  Urgent Agenda

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MAKING HIS MOVE – AT 8:57 A.M. ET:  Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, one of the favorites for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, is making a major political move – putting forward a plan to solve the problem of illegal immigration.

Rubio's move is important.  As a Hispanic, he understand how critical it is for his party to attract Hispanic support.  But the immigration issue stands in the way.  That's where Rubio's proposal comes in.  From CNN:

(CNN) - Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, is laying out elements of his proposal to reform the immigration system, which he pitches as much-needed modernization for the outdated system.

Rubio, who was elected in 2010 to his first U.S. Senate term, told The Wall Street Journal in an interview published Saturday that his plan would include a permanent residency provision and a route to citizenship for those undocumented immigrants currently in the United States, but he stressed that the plan was “not blanket amnesty or a special pathway to citizenship.”

The crux of his plan is to meet the country’s economic needs, including expanding the skilled workforce and supporting agriculture, which has relied on undocumented immigrants.

“I don't think that in the 21st century we can continue to have an immigration system where only 6.5% of people who come here, come here based on labor and skill,” he said in the interview. “We have to move toward merit and skill-based immigration."

Rubio has previously spoken out in favor of immigration reform and said last summer he was drafting a GOP alternative to the DREAM Act proposals, which would provide some form of legal status to young people who were brought into the U.S. illegally but who seek higher education or military service.

And...

Rubio’s proposal comes ahead of specifics from the president, whom he says has “not done a thing” on the issue. Perhaps, he said, Obama would work with him on this issue because “maybe he's interested in his legacy.”

He supports increasing the caps for immigrants in both skilled and labor roles and allowing undocumented immigrants to “earn” a form of legal status. He also supports an e-verify database system which employers would be required to use to determine whether a potential hire is legally employable.

"Here's how I envision it," he told the Journal. "They would have to come forward. They would have to undergo a background check. … They would have to pay a fine, pay back taxes, maybe even do community service. They would have to prove they've been here for an extended period of time. They understand some English and are assimilated. Then most of them would get legal status and be allowed to stay in this country."

The system would not only crack down on illegal immigration, but he says it would also benefit undocumented workers. "When someone is [undocumented] they're vulnerable to being exploited."

COMMENT:  Rubio is smart in addressing the issue.  The Republican Party can't avoid it any longer, and can't simply rely on old anti-illegal-immigration rhetoric.  Because of his cultural roots, Rubio is in an ideal position to move his proposals forward.

But do they have a chance?  In the House, possibly, although Rubio may actually have a problem convincing some members of his own party to support his plan.  In the Senate, though, Rubio faces a Democratic majority, which certainly has no interest in boosting the credentials of a presidential contender from the other party.  This will be a test of Rubio's ability to maneuver politically and come out with some kind of victory.

January 14,  2013