Rubio, in two separate events in Washington D.C., said his plan is still being hammered out, and important details – such as the minimum and maximum age of those who would qualify – were yet to be determined.
“We’re involving the DREAMers” in the drafting of the measure, he said, using the term that refers to undocumented youth brought to the country by their parents. “We’re involving the kids themselves.”
Asked by a reporter when it will be introduced in the Senate, Rubio said: “When it’s ready. It won’t be next week.”He said he hopes it gets introduced by summer and passed by fall.
“There are a bunch of kids. . .who want to go to school this fall,” Rubio said at an appearance at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.. “I’m also cognizant that this is an election year,” he added, saying it wouldn’t be easy to get bi-partisan support as the parties vie for elective offices.
Indeed, several Democrats in Congress say they will not back a plan that does not offer a path to citizenship.
Charles A. González, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said in a press statement: "If the Rubio Plan bars citizenship it would be the first time in modern history that someone has proposed a law that would permanently prohibit citizenship to one segment of American society."
"Earning citizenship is essential because mere legal residency will serve only as a life sentence to being relegated to an underclass status. It is against the values of our country to ask DREAMers to work hard, pay taxes and sacrifice their lives for our country, but deny them citizenship."
The number of undocumented youth who would benefit from the DREAM Act has been estimated at between 1 million and 2 million. An estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants live in the United States.
Rubio said at different events throughout Thursday in the nation's capital that criticism about his plan creating "a permanent underclass" was "not true."
The senator said that critics who dismiss his plan before it is even finalized are just interested in keeping the inability of undocumented youth to attend college "a political wedge issue," and are not really serious about finding a bipartisan solution.
"The general concept is that [students] would receive the equivalent of a non-immigrant visa, it legitimizes you," he said of his alternate DREAM Act proposal. "It doesn't allow you to to become a resident or citizen, however it doesn't prohibit you from applying."
"There's no limbo" that the students will be stuck in under his plan, he said. "The limbo is what they're in now."
Rubio often invoked the name of Daniela Peláez, a Florida high school student who is graduating as valedictorian and has been accepted to some of the nation’s top schools, but who was facing deportation (she won a two-year reprieve recently).
He said youth like Daniela should be allowed to obtain a non-immigrant visa, which would allow them to study, work, and get a driver’s license, but not grant them permanent residency. Perhaps, Rubio said, they could obtain visas that last five, or ten years, and maybe they’d be able to renew them.
"Daniela has been raised here her whole life," Rubio said. "She grew up in our public schools, did everything her parents asked of her, everything her teachers asked of her."
If they want to stay in the United States, they would have to apply like everyone else around the world, he said, and wait their turn, possibly back in their homeland. Rubio's plan also would not call on states to charge in-state tuition rates to undocumented students -- now many of them are charged out-of-state tuition, which can be twice as high -- nor would it give them access to financial aid.
“We want to make sure we don’t do anything that rewards illegal immigration,” he said.
A Fox News Latino poll this year showed that nearly 90 percent of the more than 1,000 Latino likely voters surveyed nationwide support the DREAM Act, which would allow undocumented immigrants brought to the country as minors to legalize their status if they attend college or serve in the military, among other things.
The Hispanic Leadership Network, which describes itself as a "centrist-right" organization, commissioned a survey on voters' attitudes about Rubio's alternative to a DREAM Act and reports that 83-12 percent of respondents support "allowing children of undocumented immigrants who have been here for years to obtain legal residency status after their honorable discharge from service in the U.S. military."
HLN says its survey also showed that by 67 to 29 percent, American voters support "allowing children of undocumented immigrants who have been here for years to obtain legal residency status if they graduate from college."
The general concept is that [students] would receive the equivalent of a non-immigrant visa, it legitimizes you. . .It doesn't allow you to to become a resident or citizen, however it doesn't prohibit you from applying.