Sen. Marco Rubio says that while the country cannot deport the more than 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., convicted criminals and new arrivals should be returned home.
"If you're a criminal alien, no, you can't stay. If you're someone that hasn't been here for a very long time, you can't stay," he said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” according to The Hill. "I don't think you're gonna round up and deport 12 million people."
The GOP presidential contender did not specify whether the people allowed to stay would be entitled to a pathway to citizenship at any given point.
Rubio’s position on immigration has been targeted recently by conservatives, who argue the Cuban-American senator is too soft on his stance on deportations.
On Sunday, the Florida lawmaker defended his record on immigration and argued that political realities that have stalled comprehensive reform have caused him to change his position on the contentious issue. He said it has exposed holes in the enforcement of the existing law.
"If circumstances change or you learn something along the way, it's reasonable to say, 'Maybe a different approach will work better,'" Rubio said. "So for example, on immigration it is clear no comprehensive solution to immigration is going to pass."
He added: "It is very clear now more than ever that we are not going to be able to do anything on people that are [in the U.S.] illegally until we first prove to people that illegal immigration is under control and America is safe. And ISIS poses a very unique threat unlike anything we have faced in the past."
Rubio also took the opportunity to call out his rival Sen. Ted Cruz for his own record on immigration – he said it has also changed over the years, depending on the crowd.
"The fact of the matter is that Ted has shown a propensity throughout his career in the U.S. Senate to take one position in front of one audience and then change his position in front of another," Rubio said. "He used to be in favor of legalizing people that are here illegally, and he said so in front of one audience. But then he portrays this sort of notion that he's the harshest and hardest when it comes to that issue."