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Rubio: GOP not ‘trying to gut’ immigration bill

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His comments come as the Senate Judiciary panel on Thursday begins to mark up the Gang of Eight’s bill and weigh the more than 300 proposed changes that have been filed.

Pro-immigration-reform advocates fear that any of those amendments could shatter the bipartisan consensus and kill the bill.

Rubio, though, insisted that he welcomed the amendment process.

“What we’ve always worked on is a starting point,” he said of the immigration proposal. “Now we are asking our colleagues for suggestions on how to improve it. Some of those amendments would have the effect of destroying the bill, but that’s true on both sides. But by and large most amendments are actual efforts to improve it and we welcome that,” Rubio added.

The Senate bill would provide a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants in the country illegally, and tighten border security. Additional provisions would create a guest worker program and boost the number of visas for high-skilled immigrants.

But border security and a citizenship pathway are the most contentious elements with many conservative critics. Rubio, a Tea Party favorite, has been the point man for selling the bill to skeptical GOP colleagues.

The Florida senator said that he believed conservatives were considering the bill and rallying behind reform.

“A letter was released last night: 24 conservative groups signing on to immigration reform,” said Rubio. “Basically every major conservative group out there that’s involved in immigration is in favor of doing something akin to what we are putting together. Obviously they want to see the bill improved as I do.”

He also dismissed a study from the Heritage Foundation released earlier this week, which said the bill could cost taxpayers $6.3 trillion over the next decade.

“The study is not a legitimate study,” said Rubio.

Rubio sounded an optimistic note on the prospects for immigration reform and said there was growing momentum to act on the status of those immigrants already in the country and on border security.

“The vast majority of Americans, the vast majority of conservative Republicans are saying: we are prepared, we know we need to do immigration reform,” said Rubio. “Just please make sure that this illegal immigration wave does not happen again and I think that’s a very reasonable request.”