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 RubioPoll: Rubio holds massive lead in primary Rubio: Turkey attack 'directed' by ISIS Trump: Rivals who don't back me shouldn't be allowed to run for office 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 TrumpGingrich, Christie top Trump’s VP list: report Overnight Cybersecurity: DNC hacker Guccifer 2.0 speaks out Report: Trump listened-in on calls at resort MORE and Ted CruzTed CruzThe Trail 2016: Meet and greet and grief Trump to meet with Senate GOP next week Trump camp eyeing Mike Pence for VP: report 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.

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