Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioA guide to the committees: Senate Schumer: GOP will break from Trump within months GOP loses top Senate contenders MORE (R-Fla.) said in an interview broadcast Sunday that a step-by-step, long-term approach is the only option for immigration reform.
"I know, 'cause I tried," Rubio added.
He outlined the steps he would take for reform, stressing it would start with an E-Verify bill to track entrance and exit of migrants to improve border security, followed by modernizing the legal immigration system to make it "less family based" and "more merit-based."
After a decade, the Cuban-American senator said, he would require immigrants pass a background check, learn English, pay taxes and pay a fine, as well as get a work permit.
"And after a substantial period of time in that status, assuming they haven't violated any of the conditions of that status, they would be allowed to apply for legal residency. Just like anybody else would," he said.
Finally, after legal residency had been maintained for "a number of years," immigrants could apply for citizenship, Rubio said.
"It's a long process. It's a reasonable process. It's a fair process. But it has to happen in that order, and it begins with serious enforcement measures," he added.
Rubio, who caught flak from conservatives for supporting a comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2013, has since advocated a piecemeal approach for the upwards of 12 million immigrants who currently reside in the United States illegally.
Other prospective Republican presidential candidates, such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Rubio's mentor, and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry have caught attention for supporting in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, while Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker recently changed his position, saying he didn't support "amnesty."
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) ripped Rubio on another Sunday morning program for backing off the overhaul when presented with his campaign announcement describing himself as a new type of leader.
"He took a principled, courageous stand on immigration reform, and we passed a comprehensive bill in the Senate, and then, the minute his party's base started chewing on him about it – the minute Rush Limbaugh criticized him – he folded like a cheap shotgun," McCaskill said on ABC's "This Week."
"That's old politics. That's not what we need right now. That is the stalest trick in the book. That is shirking on your principles because of the political necessities of your party," McCaskill said.