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Lawmakers pitch immigration plan with strong border control

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland March 14, 2013. RE
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland March 14, 2013. RE

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Tighter border security must be one goal of immigration reform if the measure is to pass Congress, lawmakers who support the plan said on Sunday as they tried to build support for a proposal that should be outlined in coming days.

The plan expected later this week envisions toughening border security to discourage new immigrants, while detailing clear steps that aspiring citizens can take if they are already in the country.

Senator Marco Rubio, a leader on immigration reform, said the reform plan will confront the sensitive question of how to treat those who have already entered the country illegally.

"This is not a theory. They are actually here," the Republican said on CBS' Face the Nation, of an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants.

Proposals to round up and deport undocumented residents are impractical, Rubio said, and existing immigration rules are being abused.

"What we have in place today is not good for anyone except human traffickers and people who are hiring illegal aliens and paying them less than American workers," he said on Fox News Sunday. "This is an issue that needs to be solved."

Rubio, a Cuban-American, is a leader of the so-called Gang of Eight, which has four Democrat and four Republican senators trying to address concerns of domestic industry, labor and other interests who want a voice in the immigration debate.

The first-term senator from Florida was a guest on several Sunday morning political talk shows pushing the immigration reform message.

"Part of my job is to explain to people what it is we've worked on, try to justify it and hopefully gain their support," Rubio said on CNN's State of the Union.

The immigration proposal could come as soon as Tuesday with details still being finalized, Rubio said, but the plan would put citizenship on hold while officials tighten borders and prepare undocumented workers for the tax rolls.

Lawmakers have different views on how much more border security would be required before undocumented residents could seek citizenship but discouraging future illegal immigration was seen as a key to building broad support for the measure.

"Every Republican at the table said we've got to start with border security," Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat and another member of the Gang of Eight said on Fox News Sunday.

The questions of immigration reform and gun control will likely consume the senate in coming weeks and help shape the debate in the U.S. House of Representatives, which would have to pass its own version of reform before any measure could become law.

And while labor and industry groups have blessed a key proposal dealing with itinerant workers, many lawmakers are expected to loudly oppose a plan they say does too little to guarantee public safety.

Senator Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican, wants the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to have a direct voice in setting benchmarks for who gets to stay in the country.

"When the Gang of Eight first got together, they said enforcement would come first, before legalization," Sessions said on Sunday. "This proposal will not stand up to scrutiny."

(Reporting By Patrick Rucker; Editing by Todd Eastham)

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