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 RubioOvernight Defense: Commander calls North Korea crisis 'worst' he's seen | Trump signs VA order | Dems push Trump to fill national security posts What’s with Trump’s spelling mistakes? Boeing must be stopped from doing business with Iran 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 TrumpEPA removes climate change page from website Trump claims millions in savings on Air Force One Presidents with the worst first 100 days MORE and Ted CruzTed CruzTrump in campaign mode at NRA convention Trump’s hands are tied on 9th Circuit Schumer: Trump's handling of North Korea 'all wrong' 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.