The White House has said Florida Sen. Marco Rubios immigration plans, which could legalize the status of some of those unlawfully in the country, "bode well for a productive, bipartisan debate."
A reason for that optimism: Rubios ideas and comments closely mirror those of President Obama in a 2011 policy speech in El Paso Texas.
"This is the Rubio-Obama immigration plan," Mark Krikorian, head of the conservative Center for Immigration Studies, told Mother Jones.
"Theres nothing substantive in Rubios proposal that wouldnt immediately be agreed to by President Obama," he said, noting that President George W. Bush proposed a similar plan in 2006 that many Congressional Republicans helped kill.
With the Republican Party far more opposed to immigration reform than Democrats, conservative commentators have praised Rubio for his boldness. But theyve also glossed over the fact that Obama proposed similar ideas.
Not only do Rubio and Obamas plans create a similar type of amnesty for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants, the two politicians have used similar language.
Heres Obama unveiling his plan in May 2011, relatively little-reported at the time:
"Those who are here illegally, they have a responsibility as well. So they broke the law, and that means theyve got to pay their taxes, theyve got to pay a fine, theyve got to learn English. And theyve got to undergo background checks and a lengthy process before they get in line for legalization. Thats not too much to ask."
Heres Rubio in the Wall Street Journal on the undocumented:
"They would have to come forward. They would have to undergo a background check...They would have to pay a fine, pay back taxes, maybe even do community service. They would have to prove theyve been here for an extended period of time. They understand some English and are assimilated. Then most of them would get legal status and be allowed to stay in this country."
Neither Obama nor Rubio have issued bills. So its unclear what the real specific policy differences would be on many of the finer details, although the two appear to disagree on the effectiveness and need for more border security.
Recent news reports say Obama now wants a "pathway to citizenship" for the undocumented. But details about the latest Obama plan are even scarcer than details of Rubios proposal.
Also, national reporters described Obama as seeking a "pathway to citizenship" in May 2011. But he never said that phrase in his speech or his written plan. Obama never specified what "legalization" is. Even if Obama has changed his mind, its a good indication the president and Rubio agree far more than they disagree about "legalization."
The two did have a disagreement regarding a pathway to citizenship vs. a pathway to legal residency regarding the proposed DREAM Act, which would allow those brought to this country as children to legally remain if they go to college or the military.
Obama wanted a pathway to citizenship. Rubio called for a residency pathway. Rubio shelved his plan, he says temporarily, after Obama used the framework of the Republicans plan in an executive action that stopped deporting these young people.
More broadly, the president and Rubio share similar policies and rhetoric regarding the need for more farm workers.
Rubio in the Journal: ""The goal is to give American agriculture a reliable work force and to give protection to these workers as well."
Obama in May: "We need to provide our farms a legal way to hire workers that they rely on, and a path for those workers to earn legal status."
Both Rubio and Obama have said that businesses should be punished for knowingly hiring illegal immigrants. And they believe this protects lawful workers as well as the immigrants.
Rubio in the Journal: "When someone is [undocumented] theyre vulnerable to being exploited."
Obama in May: "Also, because undocumented immigrants live in the shadows... theyre vulnerable to unscrupulous businesses that skirt taxes, and pay workers less than the minimum wage, or cut corners with health and safety laws."
Both Rubio and Obama want more highly skilled immigration.
Rubio: "I dont think that in the 21st century we can continue to have an immigration system where only 6.5% of people who come here, come here based on labor and skill. We have to move toward merit and skill-based immigration...I dont think theres a lot of concern in this country that well somehow get overrun by Ph.D.s and entrepreneurs."
Obama: "Our existing policies provide limited avenues for talented and industrious individuals to work and reside in the U.S. For example, each year, we provide approximately 400,000 visas to foreign-born students seeking to enroll in U.S. colleges and universities, but then force them to leave the country to compete against us when they graduate. In addition, it is difficult for talented entrepreneurs who wish to start companies and create jobs in the U.S. to enter and remain in the country."
One obvious difference, at least regarding their rhetoric, appears to be the issue of border security. Rubio says more needs to be done.
Obama says his administration has and is doing enough. In May, he said that border enforcement increased on his watch while construction proceeded on a border fence (something that some in the crowd hated. He suggested opponents want to "move the goal posts" on border enforcement to delay real reform.
"They said we needed to triple the Border Patrol. Or now theyre going to say we need to quadruple the Border Patrol," he said. "Or theyll want a higher fence. Maybe theyll need a moat. Maybe they want alligators in the moat. Theyll never be satisfied. And I understand that. Thats politics."
The moat-and-alligators comment enraged Republicans at the time. They said rhetoric like that showed Obama was more interested in scoring political points and giving speeches. Indeed, after Obama released his plan, the White House largely stopped talking about it.
Now Obama is moving again on immigration reform but White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday that the Republican senators plan was a good start.
Carney: "The reports about Senator Rubios ideas bode well for a productive, bipartisan debate, which we hope will start in earnest soon after the inauguration. We hope that it signals a change in the Republican approach to this issue, because if we are going to get this done, its going to take more than just a handful of Republicans working across the aisle. Its a kind of thing, comprehensive immigration reform, that requires significant bipartisan support. And he hopes that this augers well for the future."
Why not? Its pretty much what Obama asked for 20 months ago.