Washington (CNN) – Tightened border security and law enforcement “mechanisms” could threaten to scuttle Washington’s latest plan to reform immigration laws.
At least that’s the word from a lawmaker who helped create the plan.
Sen. Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican whose 2010 candidacy was boosted by support from tea party activists, told right-leaning radio host Rush Limbaugh that any plan earning his backing must contain robust measures securing the border, along with tough penalties for breaking the law, as a precursor to a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the United States.
"We need border security, we need workplace enforcement, we need a visa tracking system," Rubio said, adding later that "if there is not language in this bill that guarantees that nothing else will happen unless these enforcement mechanisms are in place, I won't support it."
The framework unveiled Monday by the group of four Democratic and four Republican senators contained provisions for a "tough but fair" path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already living in the United States, contingent upon bolstering the nation's border security. It also stipulated the establishment of an employment verification system that holds employers accountable for hiring undocumented workers.
However, at this point those details remain mere suggestions; the measure has not yet been drafted into legislative language, a process Rubio speculated could omit some of the important points he wants to see included.
"The security triggers – is it a cosmetic security trigger or is it a real enforcement trigger?" Rubio asked. "The language matters in that regard. We need to be involved in that discussion."
"The language has to reflect the intention," he continued. "There's a lot of work to be done here, and we're nowhere near the finish line. But outlining our principles is important because it takes away the ability of the other side to mischaracterize what we're for and what we're against."
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney skirted a question Tuesday on whether specific benchmarks for border security should be tied to the rest of an immigration reform package, saying he wasn't in a position to negotiate details in public.
But he said the two sides have discussed the matter, and pointed to President Barack Obama's past record on securing the border, which Carney called "the most comprehensive border security program in history."
"When it comes to border security, A) this president's record is very strong already; and, B) he will make clear that as part of his approach to comprehensive immigration reform enhancing our border security needs to be included," Carney said.
Rubio, speaking Tuesday, said he wasn't confident that Obama's own immigration proposals would match his own.
"I know the president is going to take us in a direction that I would not be comfortable with, and I don't think is good for America," he said. "I'm just trying to do the best I can with what's already a tough situation. I pray it works out."
Despite the tough language on Obama, Rubio's appearance on Limbaugh's program, along with phone calls to a slate of other conservative talk shows Tuesday, also seemed designed to quell fears in the GOP that he and other Republican lawmakers were caving to liberal demands on immigration.
"I know this is a tough issue. I do," he said. "I know why people are uncomfortable about it. It doesn't feel right, in some instances, to allow people who came here undocumented to stay."
But Republicans must get involved in fixing the system, he argued, since Obama and Democrats were bound to offer their own plans in the president's second term. Ignoring immigration, or showing resistance to compromise, would isolate the GOP from the process – and from an important bloc of potential voters.
"I am confident, I really am, that given a fair chance I can convince most Americans, including Hispanic Americans, that limited government is better for them than big government," he said.
At least one conservative seemed somewhat convinced.
"What are you doing is admirable and noteworthy," Limbaugh, the conservative firebrand, said as the interview concluded. "You are recognizing reality. I'm just worried the president is trying to change reality."