Rubio: US will respond in 'responsible way' once border is secure
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Rubio is putting border security before deportations.

Republican presidential candidate Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Senate passes 0B defense bill Trump bets base will stick with him on immigration MORE on Monday said the nation will respond “in a responsible way” when illegal immigration is fully under control.

Rubio, who has emerged as the GOP establishment’s choice to take on Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden slams Trump over golf gif hitting Clinton Trump Jr. declines further Secret Service protection: report Report: Mueller warned Manafort to expect an indictment MORE and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea GOP state lawmakers meet to plan possible constitutional convention MORE for the party’s presidential nomination, prioritized border security in his comments to Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly of “The O’Reilly Report.”

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He said it is necessary to “prove illegal immigration is finally under control.” But once that is accomplished, the co-author of a 2013 Senate immigration reform bill said Americans will respond “in a responsible way.”

The comments are softer than those of Cruz and Trump, who Tuesday sparred over competing plans to deport 12 million illegal immigrants.

Rubio ruled out a mass-deportation scenario, saying, “The sort of tactics it would require would offend the American people.”

Pushed by O'Reilly to define his ideal immigration reform scenario, Rubio described a position reminiscent of his 2013 Gang of Eight bill, but said his position could change, depending on "what the American people will support."

Rubio suggested illegal immigrants who have been in the United States for a defined period of time maintaining a clean criminal record could pay a fine and taxes to receive a work permit. 

He did not close the door to permanent residency or citizenship, saying the work permit would be “all they'd be allowed to have for a very significant period of time.”

Trump’s popularity in GOP polls has been driven in part by his forceful denunciation of illegal immigration.

Rubio’s position on immigration, in contrast, has been seen as a vulnerability in the GOP primary. But many Republicans think it could help him in a general election where Republicans will need to win over Latino voters.