Florida's federal lawmakers active in immigration reform proposals

In this Oct. 5, 2011, photo, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks at the Newseum in Washington. In an opinion piece published Sunday Jan. 27, 2013 in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Rubio wrote that the existing immigration system amounts to 'de facto amnesty,' and he called for 'common-sense reform.' (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari, File)

In this Oct. 5, 2011, photo, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks at the Newseum in Washington. In an opinion piece published Sunday Jan. 27, 2013 in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Rubio wrote that the existing immigration system amounts to "de facto amnesty," and he called for "common-sense reform." (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari, File)

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio  (AP Photo/The Post-Tribune, Andy Lavalley)

Photo by Andy Lavalley

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (AP Photo/The Post-Tribune, Andy Lavalley)

Mario Diaz-Balart

Mario Diaz-Balart

Bill Nelson

Photo by provided

Bill Nelson

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— When Congress scrutinizes comprehensive immigration reform later this year, the plans will have the fingerprints of Florida lawmakers all over them.

A bipartisan group of eight U.S. senators, including Marco Rubio, R-Fla., unveiled plans Monday to overhaul the country's immigration policies. They did so a day before President Barack Obama is slated to announce his suggestions for reform this afternoon.

"I see the good of immigration, I see how important it is for our future. As most Americans, I realize how critical an immigration system that works has been for our heritage, as it is for our future," Rubio said at a press conference to announce the plan. "By the same token, I see the negative that illegal immigration has been for our country, and the problems it causes."

The proposed Senate policy changes, which were referred to in broad terms Monday, involve increased border security, a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., and improvements to the verification system for workers' legal status.

Speaking to reporters in both English and Spanish, Rubio stood alongside four other sponsors of the plan, including Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and added that undocumented immigrants would receive preferential treatment over would-be immigrants trying to work through the immigration system legally.

In a written statement Monday, Florida's Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said he backed the plan.

"I support the principles of a bipartisan group of senators seeking immigration reform and U.S. border security. We simply cannot deport 11 million people. That would be unreasonable. It would ruin our economy. But anyone who is here must follow the rules, pay taxes, learn English and go to the end of the line. If they do that, they should have a shot at citizenship," Nelson said.

Meanwhile, a House bill crafted in part by U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, who serves part of Collier County, is only "weeks" away from being revealed, the congressman told the Daily News on Monday.

"We reach pretty similar conclusions," Diaz-Balart conceded Monday, comparing his lawmaker group's ideas for reform with the outline proposed by Rubio and his colleagues. Any plan will take years to process all potential applicants, the representative said.

For now, Diaz-Balart is intentionally tight-lipped on specifics.

"The devil's in the details, and we've been working on how to work those devils out," he said, adding that the House plan is "far ahead" after years of behind-the-scenes work but needs to get through Congress in 2013.

"If it's not done this first year, I think the prospects are greatly diminished," Diaz-Balart said.

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