(CNN) – Sen. Marco Rubio on Tuesday praised fellow Republican Sen. Rand Paul for embracing immigration reform and standing against calls to deport the millions of undocumented immigrants.
In a speech to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Paul stated that he's not in favor of expelling the country's 11 million undocumented immigrants and instead argued for a plan that would give work visas to those who came to the country illegally. A Congressional panel would determine how many visas would be given each year.
The plan would bring "these workers out of the shadows and into becoming and being taxpaying members of society," Paul said in his speech. Like Rubio, Paul is considered a potential 2016 contender for the Republican presidential nomination.
The Kentucky Republican joins a renewed push from the right on immigration reform. His speech comes as a bipartisan group of eight senators, including Rubio, work behind the scenes to draft legislation that would provide a pathway to citizenship.
Rubio said Tuesday "there's a growing consensus that something needs to be done about immigration."
"But it needs to be done in a way that's responsible," he said.
Responding to criticism from some conservatives that Rubio and the team of senators are proposing an unfair pathway to citizenship, the senator said he's never favored a special advantage for undocumented immigrants over those attempting to come to the country illegally.
"Actually, what I've never been for is a special pathway to citizenship," he said, placing the emphasis on the word "special."
Rubio described his proposal, implying there would be nothing special about it. He argued it would take quite some time for an undocumented immigrant to eventually gain citizenship.
"I'm saying that all we do is that we allow people to earn, to basically apply for and, if they qualify, receive a legal status. And then at some point in the future, when some time has elapsed and the security measures are in place, then the only thing people would get is the opportunity to apply for a green card. We wouldn't award one, either."
If they receive that green card, then they can apply for citizenship "at some point in the future," Rubio added.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who's also part of the group of senators pushing for immigration reform, agreed that Paul's statements Tuesday were "very positive" and "welcome news."
Speaking to CNN on Capitol Hill, the South Carolina senator said he wasn't clear on Paul's exact position regarding a pathway to citizenship. However, he added that it's unlikely a bill could pass without such a provision.
"There'll never be a bill without a pathway to citizenship signed by the president and in turn there'll never be a pathway to citizenship without a new immigration system in place," he said. "Those are the two tradeoffs right there."
The group of senators stated in January that they would unveil their legislation in March. Asked Tuesday when the announcement was coming, Graham said "sooner than later."
Sen. John McCain added: "You'll know when we've finished."
- CNN's Shannon Travis and Alan Silverleib contributed to this report.