(CNN) - Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, is laying out elements of his proposal to reform the immigration system, which he pitches as much-needed modernization for the outdated system.
Rubio, who was elected in 2010 to his first U.S. Senate term, told The Wall Street Journal in an interview published Saturday that his plan would include a permanent residency provision and a route to citizenship for those undocumented immigrants currently in the United States, but he stressed that the plan was “not blanket amnesty or a special pathway to citizenship.”
The crux of his plan is to meet the country’s economic needs, including expanding the skilled workforce and supporting agriculture, which has relied on undocumented immigrants.
“I don't think that in the 21st century we can continue to have an immigration system where only 6.5% of people who come here, come here based on labor and skill,” he said in the interview. “We have to move toward merit and skill-based immigration."
Rubio has previously spoken out in favor of immigration reform and said last summer he was drafting a GOP alternative to the DREAM Act proposals, which would provide some form of legal status to young people who were brought into the U.S. illegally but who seek higher education or military service.
He put his plans on hold in June as President Barack Obama announced he would suspend deportations on many of these young adults. Critics dismissed it as a political move in an election year.
In a December interview on NBC, Obama said he would work on immigration in the first year of his second term.
“I've said that fixing our broken immigration system is a top priority. I will introduce legislation in the first year to get that done,” he said. “We can do it in a comprehensive way that the American people support. That's something we should get done.”
Rubio’s proposal comes ahead of specifics from the president, whom he says has “not done a thing” on the issue. Perhaps, he said, Obama would work with him on this issue because “maybe he's interested in his legacy.”
He supports increasing the caps for immigrants in both skilled and labor roles and allowing undocumented immigrants to “earn” a form of legal status. He also supports an e-verify database system which employers would be required to use to determine whether a potential hire is legally employable.
"Here's how I envision it," he told the Journal. "They would have to come forward. They would have to undergo a background check. … 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 system would not only crack down on illegal immigration, but he says it would also benefit undocumented workers. "When someone is [undocumented] they're vulnerable to being exploited."
Besides being a solution to the immigration issue, Rubio says it is politically beneficial to his party. Obama won an overwhelming percentage of Latino and other minority voters.
"The immigration issue is a gateway issue for Hispanics, no doubt about it,” he said. “No matter what your stance is on a number of other issues, if people somehow come to believe that you don't like them or want them here, it's difficult to get them to listen to anything else."