Rubio defends immigration reform plan

This is a rush transcript from "Hannity," January 28, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

SEAN HANNITY, HOST: Earlier today, a group of eight senators unveiled a new framework to reform America's immigration laws for the nearly 11 million undocumented people that are living in this country right now.

Now in just a moment I'll be joined by one of the lawmakers who helped put this together, this new plan, Senator Marco Rubio from Florida. But first, here is how the deal was announced earlier today.

Now, the eight senators who came up with this plan have a number of goals in mind. Now, first, they want to secure our borders, and that means first. The agreement calls for creating a path to citizenship for those who are already living here in the United States illegally. They also want to reform the legal immigration system that the U.S. has in place. They want to create an effective employment verification system to prevent the hiring of unauthorized workers, which will help combat identity theft and establishing an improved process for admitting future workers to serve our nation's work force needs.

Now tomorrow President Obama is expected to lay out his vision for sweeping immigration reforms and was is being billed as a major speech. However, ahead of that and in response to what we heard today out of the Senate, I thought I would share my views, as a conservative, on this topic.

Now, the issue of immigration has been used as a political wedge by Democrats for years. And now, Republicans, they have been falsely accused of not caring about Latino immigrants because the Republicans demand that our borders be secured and secured first.

Now, let's cut to the chase. If we don't secure American borders, we'll never be safe as a country. This has got to be a top national security priority. Now, this issue is a whole lot bigger than people just coming to America they want opportunity because the terrorists across the border, drug smugglers, and the impact has been massive.

Now the financial impact on our educational system, our health care system, our criminal justice system has cost this country billions and billions of dollars. Now, as this debate moves forward, I want to warn Republicans in the House and Senate, because as President Reagan once said, trust but verify.

Now, any deal that is made with Democrats must include securing the borders first, and I mean totally secure. Otherwise, I promise you you're going to be back 10 years from now and we're going to be dealing with the exact same issues. And to be honest, I frankly have little or no trust in Senator Schumer, Senator Durbin and President Obama.

You know, I don't really think they want to solve the issue, I think they want to politicize it. So my advice to Republican lawmakers, proceed with caution.

But joining me now with reaction to today's announcement, Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Senator, good advice, bad advice?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO, R-FLA.: Yes, good advice. And thanks for having me on to talk about this important topic. I think it's a good moment to remind people and the country that the vast majority of conservatives favor legal immigration, and we don't have a legal immigration system that works right now. And our problem with illegal immigration is that it undermines legal immigration.

So we have 11 million people that are undocumented, and we understand that we have to deal with this issue because we have 11 million people that by all accounts are going to be here the rest of their lives with or without documents. But our objection has been in the past that we can't do anything to deal with 11 million people that, number one, is unfair to people who have done it the right way, or number two, that will encourage illegal immigration in the future.

And that's why your point is so important. And one of the things that I have made a key part of my own personal principles, I'm glad we found our way into these principles and must be a part of any final bill. And that is this. Before we can move towards a path for green cards -- because citizenship comes after that, it's a path to green cards. Before we move to a path towards green cards, there has to be enforcement mechanisms, verified and in place. And the not just the border, Sean, it's workplace enforcement, because that's the magnet for legal immigration, and its tracking the entry and exit of visitor visas. Forty percent of our illegal immigration and undocumented people in the country entered illegally and overstayed their visas, and we don't track when people leave, so we don't know who and where they are.

All of these things must happen before, before there's a path to a green card and that's a critical part of any component that we do here.

HANNITY: As I read the frame work that was put out today, earlier, Senator, it said simultaneously, so I wonder if people were playing games politically.

RUBIO: No, let me explain that. Here is what happens, when you're undocumented, you have to come forward and identify yourself and you're going to be fingerprinted and have a background check done, you're going to have to pay taxes and fines. And what you get is a nonimmigrant visa, not a green card, a work permit to stay in the country and you don't qualify for any federal benefits under that. You don't get federal benefits.

During the same time -- they're going to have to stay in this process for a significant period of time. While they're in that process is when all of this security stuff needs to happen. After a number of years have gone by and the security enforcement stuff is in place, then the second phase begins, which is we give the people an opportunity to apply for a green card, the same way that everybody else does, not the special way, the same way, which means you have to stand in line, you have to wait your turn behind everyone who applied before you legally, and when your turn comes up, you have to qualify for the visa you're applying for.

In essence we're giving people the opportunity to earn the chance to do this the way they should have done it to begin with. That's why they say simultaneous, because when you're in the probationary period that's when the enforcement stuff is happening.

HANNITY: So how long will this process ultimately take, and for example, you said no federal benefits. You have to prove you have a job and go through a background check. Is it going to be that stringent for people?

RUBIO: That's why the details are so important of how you write it. You're absolutely right, this is a town where they write things that are called something and that's not what it is. You said something in your outline that's very important. I don't want to ever have to do this again, but that's what's going to happen if all we do is the legalization part and don't do the enforcement part.

And the only way that I know to incentivize the enforcement part is to stay that the green card stuff doesn't begin to happen if the enforcement happens first. That trigger is critically important unless it will never happen, and that's why we're where we are today. When they did this in 1986, they did not do the enforcement, and that led to 11 million people, back in 10 years or less if we don't do the enforcement.

HANNITY: Can I characterize that? if you don't get enforcement first or securing the borders first, is that a deal killer for you?

RUBIO: Absolutely. I mean, because it's -- we'll be right back here again and I want to deal with this permanently. And I think the vast majority of people in both parties would agree with me on that point. No one ever wants to have to do this again.

No one is happy about the fact that we have 11 million people here who are undocumented. This is something that should never ever happen again, but the decisions made that led to this happened when I was in 9th grade, a long time ago, and now we have to deal with this so it never happens again.

HANNITY: How do you respond -- I read the frame work and when you first explained it to me last week and I spoke to you.


HANNITY: I said, this was the most interesting proposal that I had ever heard. It seemed like you were really sincere in putting this to bed once and for all and also, it seemed like a very, very difficult process with a lot of penalties involved for people who did not respect our laws and sovereignty.

What do you say to people that say, ultimately in the end if people can get a green card, they can stay, that it's a back door form of amnesty. What's your response to that?

RUBIO: Well, first of all, the bottom line is, that it would have been cheaper and easier for them to have done it the legal way than the way they're going to get it now. We're creating an incentive and not rewarding it. Quite frankly, for many of the people, they would have been better off doing it the right way.

It's going to cost them penalties, taxes, a significant wait and then after they do all of that, the only thing they're going to have access to is the opportunity to apply for a green card. You still have to qualify for the visa you're applying for. So they would have been better off doing it the right way from beginning. And amnesty, different from the proposal in 2007, created a brand new thing called a (INAUDIBLE) visa, a blanket and had to do little to qualify for it.

So, look, the reason, this is not, we're not trying to punish anybody here. It's not about that we're angry at immigrants. It's about the fact that we don't want this to ever happen again and we don't want to be unfair to the people that have done it in the right way.

Sean, I have hundreds of people a month come to the offices talking about the fact that they have family members waiting in line to come the right way. Our message to them cannot be come illegally because it's cheaper and quicker. On the other hand it's a reality. We have 11 million human beings in this country that will be here the rest of their lives. We have to solve that problem in a way that takes care of it forever.

HANNITY: They go back to the back of the line, that will be part of the legislation, correct?

RUBIO: Yes, not only do they go to the back of the line and wait behind everybody who applied before them the right way. When their turn comes up they have to qualify for the visa that they apply for, not a special pathway.

HANNITY: And there's going to be a lot of penalties and security checks. I will say this, it's the most thoughtful proposal that I've heard and you've explained it better than anybody, but the devil will be in the details.

RUBIO: Always is.

HANNITY: And to me, I agree with you, if they don't secure the border first we'll be back debating it in five years.

RUBIO: That's correct.

HANNITY: Senator, thanks so much for the clarification and wish the you best of luck on this process as we move forward.

RUBIO: Thank you, Sean.

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