Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

What to expect as Obama, Rubio float immigration reform plans

Janitors hold a candlelight vigil calling for federal immigration reform in response to Arizona's SB 1070 anti-illegal immigration law.
Janitors hold a candlelight vigil calling for federal immigration reform in response to Arizona's SB 1070 anti-illegal immigration law.
Mark Ralston/Getty Images

Both the Obama administration and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) are floating different reform plans, though neither has appeared in writing yet.

President Barack Obama is expected to begin pushing Congress in the near future on a promised plan that would include a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. Administration officials have said it will be broad in nature as opposed to the more targeted approaches seen so far.

Rubio, who last year suggested a plan for young immigrants that had yet to take shape before he was beaten to the punch by Obama's deferred action program, is also reportedly back at the drawing table. Rubio told the Wall Street Journal this weekend that he wants to lead a GOP overhaul to "modernize" legal immigration and how visas are issued, including a guest worker program and more skilled worker visas.

What to make of either approach? ABC News has a thorough side-by-side comparison based on what both the White House and Rubio have revealed so far. For example, here's how prospects for a path to citizenship for the undocumented compare:

Citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants: The White House has said that it will reject any bill that doesn't include a pathway to citizenship for the millions of people in the country without papers. The path to citizenship would be earned, meaning immigrants would need to pay back taxes along with "other hurdles," according to The New York Times. The White House's 2011 blueprint for reform says those other hurdles could involve criminal background checks, learning English and paying a processing fee.

Citizenship for the 11 million undocumented: Rubio supports legal status for the undocumented, but he hasn't endorsed a special pathway to citizenship. The Journal calls his version of legal status "a form of temporary limbo." According to Rubio, immigrants should earn legal status through a process similar to Obama's approach to citizenship by paying back taxes, learning English and passing a background check. After that, they could apply for a green card and potentially pursue citizenship.

The best details on Obama's planned reform push are in the New York Times, which had this:

The White House will argue that its solution for illegal immigrants is not an amnesty, as many critics insist, because it would include fines, the payment of back taxes and other hurdles for illegal immigrants who would obtain legal status, the officials said.

The president’s plan would also impose nationwide verification of legal status for all newly hired workers; add visas to relieve backlogs and allow highly skilled immigrants to stay; and create some form of guest-worker program to bring in low-wage immigrants in the future.

Rubio, meanwhile, laid out his general thoughts in the Journal's opinion section:

"Here's how I envision it," he says. "They would have to come forward. They would have to undergo a background check." Anyone who committed a serious crime would be deported. "They would be fingerprinted," he continues. "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 special regime he envisions is a form of temporary limbo. "Assuming they haven't violated any of the conditions of that status," he says, the newly legalized person could apply for permanent residency, possibly leading to citizenship, after some years — but Mr. Rubio doesn't specify how many years. 

The competing plans are something of a post-deferred action rematch. Early last year, Rubio touted the possibility of a GOP bill similar to the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. It would have provided relief for undocumented college students, only it would lack direct path to U.S. citizenship.

Before Rubio could introduce his bill, though, Obama introduced what's now known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which launched in August. That also offers no path to citizenship or permanent legal status for recipients, who obtain only a two-year renewable reprieve from deportation and a work permit if they qualify.

The path-to-citizenship component to an immigration overhaul has long been a sticking point, with Republican critics saying it would reward illegal entry. But such a plan could also come from a bipartisan Senate coalition that has been crafting its own immigration reform proposal, the details of which haven't been revealed.